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Wolcott Qibbs 



Copyright © 1958 by Wolcott Gibbs 

Copyright, © 1938, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1948, 1949, 1954, 1956, 1957, 
1958, by Wolcott Gibbs. 

Except for "The Country of the Blind" and "Robert Benchley: In Memo- 
tiam." all the material in this book originally appeared in The New Yorker. 

""Robert Benchley: In Memoriam" originally appeared in The New York 

"The Country of the Blind" originally appeared in The Saturday Review. 

The following stories are reprinted by permission of Dodd, Mead & Com- 
pany from Bed Of Neuroses by Wolcott Gibbs. Copyright, © 1929, 1932, 
1933, 1936, 1937 by Wolcott Gibbs: "Feud," "The Factory and the Attic," 
"Glorious Calvin," "Outwitting the Lightning," "Ring Out, Wild Bells," 
"Time . . . Fortune . . . Life . . . Luce," "Death in the Rumble Seat," 
and "Topless in Ilium." 

The following stories are reprinted by permission of Random House from 
Season In The Sun & Other Pleasures by Wolcott Gibbs. Copyright, © 
1937, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945, 1946 by^ Wolcott 
Gibbs : "Shad Ampersand," "The Education of Henry Apley," "Eva's Death- 
bed Revisited," "Shakespeare, Here's Your Hat," "Song at Twilight," "Cru- 
soe's Footprint," "The Courtship of Milton Barker," "The Personality Kid," 
"Adultery Makes Dull Bedfellows," "The Mantle of Comstock," "The Secret 
Life of Myself," "The Country of the Blind," "O.K., Zanuck, Take it Away," 
"The Big Boffola," and "Battle's Distant Sound." 

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this 

book or portions thereof in any form. 

In Canada, George J. McLeod, Ltd. 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 5811221 

Published, September, 1958 

Second Printing, October, 1958 

Third Printing, November, 1958 

Printed in the United States of America 







Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2012 with funding from 

LYRASIS Members and Sloan Foundation 


About a quarter of the material in this book appeared in a 
collection of mine published in 1937; another quarter turned 
up in a second collection ten years later; and the remainder 
has never been assembled between covers, other than those 
of The New Yorker magazine, up to now. It is hard to say 
what conclusions can be drawn from these facts. It occurs 
to me that writers don t change much from the time they 
are thirty or thereabouts until they are laid away — perma- 
nently, I trust. As they grow older, they are apt to perform 
at somewhat greater length, age being garrulous, and their 
prose is perhaps a little more ornate, conceivably because 
they have so much time for the superfluous decoration on 
their hands; but the essence remains the same. An author 
is either competent or horrible in the beginning, and he 
stays that way to the end of his days, unless certain pres- 
sures force him into other and shadier occupations, like 
alcoholism or television. 

I can see now that this has little bearing on this book. 
Well, what is there to be said about it? For one thing, X 
guess, I'd like to point out that several articles in it were 
written at least twenty years ago so that the subjects are 
left more or less in midstream. I think here specifically of a 
short biography of Henry Robinson Luce, founder of Time 
and kindred enterprises, which takes rather abrupt leave 
of him at the time he was just starting a magazine called Life. 
It seemed to me at first that Mr. Luce's career ought to be 

viii Foreword 

brought up to date, but my second, and final, decision was 
that this would be superfluous, not because of the extra ef- 
fort involved, a matter naturally of small concern to me, but 
because whatever changes have taken place in him have had 
to do with increasing celebrity and scope rather than any 
fundamental shifting of personality. It is obvious that Mr. 
Luce occupies a more obtrusive position in the nation than 
he did in 1935, but I see no reason to suppose that he is 
a different man. There are several other cases where history 
has altered circumstances, but none, I think, where it has 
rearranged my opinions. The articles in this book therefore 
are printed just as they were in the first place. Among other 
things, this makes for brevity, a quality high on any list of 
literary virtues. 

The only other thing I wish to say about this collection is 
that, as far as I know, it contains no references to juvenile 
delinquency, the atomic bomb, supersonic flight, Miss Mari- 
lyn Monroe, or any of the other phenomena peculiar to our 
times. This may easily lead a good many readers to suppose 
that I died several years ago, probably in the explosion of 
the first electric icebox, but the truth is that these subjects 
are just a little beyond my range. I am content to leave them 
all, including Miss Monroe, to the science-fiction writers. 

Unlike most authors, I am a victim of almost totally de- 
fective recall, so that the autobiographical notes that cus- 
tomarily accompany such essays as this will be uninforma- 
tive, to put it mildly. I do remember that we were an 
unusually peripatetic family, and that I spent considerable 
segments of my childhood in the states of New York, Ver- 
mont, Maine, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Wisconsin, New Jer- 
sey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, not nec- 
essarily in that order. They all looked much alike to me, only 
the girls shifting a bit in size and shape from place to place. 
The reason for all this gadding about was that my father 
was an inventor, always under the impression that the cli- 

Foreword ix 

mate for invention would be a little more favorable in an- 
other town. Once, when some particularly preposterous in- 
vention made us rich, I had an English governess, who made 
it practically unthinkable for me to spell words like "honor" 
without a "u." Then, with the failure of a considerably more 
rational device, I went to a succession of public schools 
where I learned a good many things that appeared to sur- 
prise my mother, and then, finally, to three or four private 
ones where it proved substantially impossible to teach me 
anything whatever. The fault here, I realize in retrospect, 
was principally my own. As nearly as I can put it, I held 
strong and wayward opinions on practically every subject 
in the world, and when I found that they seldom coincided 
with those forced upon me by my instructors, I simply 
stopped listening. The years and increasing tolerance have 
convinced me that a man can simultaneously imagine that 
a book called Kim, by Rudyard Kipling, may be read for 
pleasure and still be capable of instructing the young in the 
English language. At the time, however, it struck me that I 
was holed up in some American version of Dotheboys Hall, 
and I kept out of everybody's way as much as was feasible. 
After the collapse of my education, I was employed, again 
in no recapturable sequence, as an insurance clerk, an un- 
paid apprentice in an architect's office, a chauffeur to an 87- 
year-old actor, a timekeeper, a brakeman, and a newspaper 
reporter. It was like almost any career you can read, synop- 
sized, on the back jacket of a mystery story, except that 
at no time, even during the year or so I spent on something 
called The East Norwich Enterprise, did it occur to me that 
writing might be a rational or profitable occupation. Prac- 
tically no one, of course, is without some dream of what the 
future holds for him, however incoherent it may be. As much 
as anything else, I guess, I would have liked to instruct an 
endless succession of beautiful young women to play tennis. 
The only trouble with that was that I didn't really play ten- 

x Foreword 

nis very well. Magazine writing, I suppose, simply occurred 
to me as the next easiest way to make a living, and I applied 
to an obliging relative who happened to have access to an 
editor for such employment. It was as simple as that. 

The time I spent on The New Yorker (from 1927 up to 
now) has been covered by Mr. James Thurber in his book 
called The Years with Ross in a manner that should serve 
always as a model for such reminiscences. In addition to a 
phenomenal memory, Mr. Thurber has enormous persever- 
ance in research, a wit and style that have always com- 
manded my stunned admiration, and, I should say, a ro- 
mantic heart that has enabled him to think of his place of 
business as the most picturesque establishment in publish- 
ing history. This is a touching illusion, and I hesitate to cor- 
rect it. Instead, I think, we will just pass on to something 
else. Because of a late-blooming and therefore more than 
usually passionate energy, I have contributed more words 
to The New Yorker than anybody else in its thirty-odd year 
span. It is certainly unnecessary to go into the nature of 
these works, except to say that they included practically 
everything this side of women's fashions and horse racing, 
two fields in which my information was generally felt to be 
inadequate, though not by me. The important, or perhaps 
the merely numbing, thing is the matter of sheer volume, 
and here I yield to no man. Year in and year out, regardless 
of the world's condition or my own, I thumped away, and 
the drifting pages were gathered up, numbered, and, after 
some superfluous hocus-pocus known as editing, despatched 
to the Conde Nast Press in Greenwich, Connecticut, where 
they were translated to type and eventually distributed to 
the public as part of a magazine. In my opinion, the selection 
that follows contains the best of this staggering output, or at 
any rate the part that pleases me most. I will be grateful, and 
rather startled, if anyone agrees. 





Time . . . Fortune . . . Life . . . Luce 

Death in the Rumble Seat 20 

Topless in Ilium 24 

The Factory and the Attic 27 

Glorious Calvin 33 

Shad Ampersand 37 

The Education of Henry Apley 47 

Eva's Deathbed Revisited 51 

Shakespeare, Here's Your Hat 56 

To a Little Girl at Christmas 62 

On a Darkling Plain 66 

Zulu, Watch the Snakes 71 


Big Nemo 79 

Lady of the Cats 126 

St. George and the Dragnet 140 

One with Nineveh 162 

Battle's Distant Sound 174 

Robert Benchley: In Memoriam 180 


Outwitting the Lightning 187 

Ring Out, Wild Bells 191 

The Secret Life of Myself 196 

Song at Twilight 202 

Crusoe's Footprint 211 

The Courtship of Milton Barker 223 

Feud 238 

The Curious Incident of the Dogs in the Night-time 246 

The Crusaders 257 


The Country of the Blind 267 
O.K., Zanuck, Take it Away 275 
The Big Boffola 285 
The Personality Kid 291 
Adultery Makes Dull Bedfellows 294 
The Mantle of Comstock 297 
Two Very Sad Young Men 301 
At Home with the Gants 304 


Time . . . Fortune . . . Life . . . Luce 

Sad-eyed in October, 1936, was nimble, middle-sized Life- 
President Clair Maxwell as he told newshawks of the sale of 
the fifty-three-year-old gagmag to Time. For celebrated 
name alone, price: $85,000. 

Said he: "Life . . . introduced to the world the draw- 
ings ... of such men as Charles Dana Gibson, the verses 
of . . . James Whitcomb Riley and Oliver Herford, such 
writers as John Kendrick Bangs. . . . Beginning next month 
the magazine Life will embark on a new venture entirely 
unrelated to the old." 

How unrelated to the world of the Gibson Girl was this 
new venture might have been gathered at the time from 
a prospectus issued by enormous, Apollo-faced C. D. Jack- 
son, of Time, Inc. 

"Life," wrote he, "will show us the Man-of-the-Week 
... his body clothed and, if possible, nude." It will expose 
"the loves, scandals, and personal affairs of the plain and 
fancy citizen . . . and write around them a light, good- 
tempered 'colyumnist' review of these once-private lives." 

29,000 die-hard subscribers to Life,* long accustomed to 
he-she jokes, many ignorant of Duke of Windsor's once- 
private life ( Time, July 25, 1936, et seq.), will be comforted 
for the balance of their subscription periods by familiar, 

* Peak of Life circulation ( 1921 ) : 250,000. 


innocent jocosities of Judge. First issue of new publication 
went out to 250,000 readers, carried advertisements sug- 
gesting an annual revenue of $1,500,000, pictured Russian 
peasants in the nude, the love life of the Black Widow 
spider, referred inevitably to Mrs. Ernest Simpson. By 
March, 1937, circulation had touched a million; form and 
content remained essentially the same. 

Behind this latest, most incomprehensible Timenterprise 
loomed, as usual, ambitious, gimlet-eyed, Baby Tycoon 
Henry Robinson Luce, co-founder of Time, promulgator of 
Fortune, potent in associated radio & cinema ventures. 


Headman Luce was born in Tengchowfu, China, on April 
3, 1898, the son of Henry Winters & Elizabeth Middleton 
Luce, Presbyterian missionaries. Very unlike the novels of 
Pearl Buck were his early days. Under brows too beetling 
for a baby, young Luce grew up inside the compound, 
played with his two sisters, lisped first Chinese, dreamed 
much of the Occident. At 14, weary of poverty, already re- 
specting wealth & power, he sailed alone for England, en- 
tered school at St. Albans. Restless again, he came to the 
United States, enrolled at Hotchkiss, met up & coming 
young Brooklynite Briton Hadden. Both even then were 
troubled with an itch to harass the public. Intoned Luce 
years later: "We reached the conclusion that most peo- 
ple were not well informed & that something should be 
done. . . ." 

First publication to inform fellowman was Hotchkiss 
Weekly Record; next Yale Daily News, which they turned 
into a tabloid; fought to double hours of military training, 
fought alumni who wished to change tune of Yale song 

Time . . . Fortune . . . Life . . . Luce 5 

from Die Wacht am Rhein. Traditionally unshaven, wear- 
ing high-buttoned Brooks jackets, soft white collars, cor- 
dovan shoes, no garters, Luce & Hadden were Big Men on 
a campus then depleted of other, older Big Men by the 
war. Luce, pale, intense, nervous, was Skull & Bones, Alpha 
Delta Phi, Phi Beta Kappa, member of the Student Council, 
editor of the News; wrote sad poems, read the New Re- 
public, studied political philosophy. As successful, less ear- 
nest, more convivial, Hadden collected china dogs, made 
jokes.* In 1920 the senior class voted Hadden Most Likely 
to Succeed, Luce Most Brilliant. Most Brilliant he, Luce 
sloped off to Christ Church, Oxford, there to study Euro- 
pean conditions, take field trips into the churning Balkans. 


Twenty months after commencement, in the city room of 
Paperkiller Frank Munsey's Baltimore News, met again 
Luce, Hadden. Newshawks by day, at night they wrangled 
over policies of the magazine they had been planning since 
Hotchkiss. Boasted the final prospectus: "Time will be free 
from cheap sensationalism . . . windy bias." 

In May, 1922, began the long struggle to raise money 
to start Time. Skeptical at the outset proved Newton D. 
Baker, Nicholas Murray Butler, Herbert Bayard Swope, 
William Lyon Phelps. Pooh-poohed Review of Reviews 
Owner Charles Lanier: "My best advice . . . don't do it." 
From studious, pint-sized Henry Seidel Canby, later editor 
of Lamont-backed Saturday Review of Literature, came 
only encouraging voice in this threnody. 

Undismayed Luce & Hadden took the first of many 

* Once, watching Luce going past, laden with cares & responsibilities, 
Hadden chuckled, upspoke: "Look out, Harry. You'll drop the college." 


offices in an old brownstone house at 9 East 17th Street, 
furnished it with a filing cabinet, four second-hand desks, 
a big brass bowl for cigarette stubs, sought backers.* 

JPMorganapoleon H. P. Davison, Yale classmate of Luce, 
Hadden, great & good friend of both, in June contributed 
$4,000. Next to succumb: Mrs. David S. Ingalls, sister 
of Classmate William Hale Harkness; amount, $10,000. 
From Brother Bill, $5,000. Biggest early angel, Mrs Wil- 
liam Hale Harkness, mother of Brother Bill & Mrs. Ingalls, 
invested $20,000. Other original stockholders: Robert A. 
Chambers, Ward Cheney, F. Trubee Davison, E. Roland 

* In return for $50 cash, original investors were given two shares 6% Pre- 
ferred Stock with a par value of $25, one share Class A Common Stock 
without par value. 3,440 Preferred, 1,720 Class A Common were so sold. 

170 shares of Class A Common, 8,000 shares of Class B Common, also 
without par value, not entitled to dividends until Preferred Shares had 
been retired, were issued to Briton Hadden, Henry R. Luce, who gave 
one-third to associates, divided remainder equally. 

In 1925, authorized capital of Time, Inc., was increased to 19,000 
shares; of which 8,000 were Preferred, 3,000 Class A; as before, 8,000 
Class B. 

In June, 1930 (if you are still following this), the Preferred Stock was 
retired in full & dividends were initiated for both Common Stocks. Corpora- 
tion at this time had 2,400 shares Class A, 7,900 Class B outstanding. 

By the spring of 1931 Time had begun to march, shares were nominally 
quoted at $1,000. Best financial minds advised splitting stock on basis of 
twenty shares for one. Outstanding after clever maneuver: 206,400 shares 

In 1933, outlook still gorgeous, each share of stock was reclassified into 
l/ioth share of $6.50 Dividend Cumulative Convertible Preferred Stock 
($6.50 div. cum. con. pfd. stk. ) and one share of New Common Stock. 
New div. cum. con. pfd. stk. was convertible into a share and a half of New 
Common Stock, then selling around $40 a share, now quoted at over $200. 

Present number of shares outstanding, 238,000; paper value of shares, 
$47,000,000; conservative estimate of Luce holding, 102,300 shares; paper 
value, $20,460,000; conservative estimate of Luce income from Time stock, 
$818,400; reported Luce income from other investments, $100,000; re- 
ported Luce bagatelle as editor of Time, Inc., $45,000; reported total 
Lucemolument, $963,400. 


Time . . . Fortune . . . Life . . . Luce 7 

Harriman, Dwight W. Morrow, Harvey S. Firestone, Jr., 
Seymour H. Knox, William V. Griffin. By November Luce 
& Hadden had raised $86,000, decided to go to work on 


Puny in spite of these preparations, prosy in spite of the 
contributions of Yale poets Archibald MacLeish & John 
Farrar, was the first issue of Time on March 3, 1923. Maga- 
zine went to 9,000 subscribers; readers learned that Uncle 
Joe Cannon had retired at 86, that there was a famine in 
Russia, that Thornton Wilder's friend Tunney had defeated 

Yet to suggest itself as a rational method of communica- 
tion, of infuriating readers into buying the magazine, was 
strange inverted Timestyle. It was months before Hadden's 
impish contempt for his readers,* his impatience with the 
English language, crystallized into gibberish. By the end of 
the first year, however, Timeditors were calling people able, 
potent, nimble; "Tycoon," most successful Timepithet, had 
been coined by Editor Laird Shields Goldsborough; so fas- 
cinated Hadden with "beady-eyed" that for months nobody 
was anything else. Timeworthy were deemed such designa- 
tions as "Tom-tom" Heflin, "Body-lover" Macfadden. 

"Great word! Great word!" would crow Hadden, coming 
upon "snaggle-toothed," "pig-faced." Appearing already 
were such maddening coagulations as "cinemaddict," "ra- 
diorator." Appearing also were first gratuitous invasions of 
privacy. Always mentioned as William Randolph Hearst's 
"great & good friend" was Cinemactress Marion Davies, 

* Still framed at Time is Hadden's scrawled dictum: "Let Subscriber Good- 
kind mend his ways!" 


stressed was the bastardy of Ramsay MacDonald, the "cozy 
hospitality" of Mae West. Backward ran sentences until 
reeled the mind. 

By March, 1924, the circulation had doubled, has risen 
since then 40,000 a year, reaches now the gratifying peak of 
640,000, is still growing. From four meagre pages in first 
issue, Time advertising has now come to eclipse that in 
Satevepost. Published Time in first six months of 1936, 1,590 
pages; Satevepost, 1,480. 


Strongly contrasted from the outset of their venture were 
Hadden, Luce. Hadden, handsome, black-haired, eccentric, 
irritated his partner by playing baseball with the office 
boys, by making jokes, by lack of respect for autocratic 
business. Conformist Luce disapproved of heavy drinking, 
played hard, sensible game of tennis, said once: "I have no 
use for a man who lies in bed after nine o'clock in the morn- 
ing," walked to work every morning, reproved a writer who 
asked for a desk for lack of "log-cabin spirit." 

In 1925, when Time moved its offices to Cleveland, bored, 
rebellious was Editor Hadden; Luce, busy & social, lunched 
with local bigwigs, addressed Chamber of Commerce, sub- 
scribed to Symphony Orchestra, had neat house in the sub- 
urbs. Dismayed was Luce when Hadden met him on return 
from Europe with premature plans to move the magazine 
back to New York. In 1929, dying of a streptococcus infec- 
tion, Hadden still opposed certain details of success-formula 
of Fortune, new, beloved Lucent erprise. - 

Time . . . Fortune . . . Life . . . Luce 9 


In January, 1930, first issue of Fortune was mailed to 30,000 
subscribers, cost as now $1 a copy, contained articles on 
branch banking, hogs, glass-blowing, how to live in Chicago 
on $25,000 a year. Recent issue went to 130,000 subscribers, 
contained articles on bacon, tires, the New Deal, weighed 
as much as a good-sized flounder.* 

Although in 1935 Fortune made a net profit of $500,000, 
vaguely dissatisfied was Editor Luce. Anxious to find & 
express "the technological significance of industry," he has 
been handicapped by the fact that his writers are often 
hostile to Big Business, prone to insert sneers, slithering 
insults. In an article on Bernard Baruch, the banker was 
described as calling President Hoover "old cheese-face." 
Protested Tycoon Baruch that he had said no such thing. 
Shotup of this was that Luce, embarrassed, printed a re- 
traction; now often removes too-vivid phrasing from writ- 
ers' copy. 

If Typical perhaps of Luce methods is Fortune system of 
getting material. Writers in first draft put down wild gossip, 
any figures that occur to them. This is sent to victim, who 
indignantly corrects the errors, inadvertently supplies facts 
he might otherwise have withheld. 

1f March of Time in approximately its present form was first 
broadcast on March 6, 1931, paid the Columbia System for 
privilege, dropped from the air in February, 1932, with 
Luce attacking radio's "blatant claim to be a medium of 
education." Said he: "Should Time or any other business 
feel obliged to be the philanthropist of the air; to continue 
to pay for radio advertising it doesn't want in order to pro- 
vide radio with something worthwhile?" So popular, so 

* Two pounds, nine ounces. 


valuable to the studio was March of Time that it was re- 
stored in September of the same year, with Columbia do- 
nating its time & facilities. Since then March of Time has 
been sponsored by Remington-Rand typewriter company, 
by Wrigley's gum, by its own cinema March of Time, has 
made 400 broadcasts.* Apparently reconciled to philan- 
thropy is Luce, because time for latest version is being 
bought & paid for by his organization. 

fl No active connection now has Luce with the moving- 
picture edition of March of Time, which was first shown on 
February 1, 1935, appears thirteen times a year in over 
6,000 theatres, has so far failed to make money, to repay 
$900,000 investment. Even less connection has he with 
Time's only other unprofitable venture. Fifty-year-old Ar- 
chitectural Forum, acquired in 1932, loses still between 
$30,000 and $50,000 a year, circulates to 31,000. 
\ Letters, five-cent fortnightly collection of Times corre- 
spondence with its indefatigable readers, was started in 
1931, goes to 30,000, makes a little money. 
ft For a time, Luce was on Board of Directors of Paramount 
Pictures. Hoped to learn something of cinema, heard noth- 
ing discussed but banking, resigned sadly. 

FIGURES . . . 

Net profits of Time, Inc., for nine years : 

1927 3>86o 

1928 125,787 

1929 325*412 

* By some devious necromancy, statisticians have calculated that March of 
Time ranks just behind Amos & Andy as most popular of all radio pro- 
grams; reaches between 8,000,000 and 9,000,000 newshungry addicts. 

Time . . . Fortune . . . Life . . . Luce 11 

1930 818,936 

1931 847,447 

1932 613,727* 

1933 1,009,628 

1934 1,773,094 

1935 $2,249,823f 


f Exceeded only by Curtis Publishing Co. (Satevepost) : $5,329,900; 

Crowell Publishing Co. (Colliers): $2,399,600. 

In 1935 gross revenue of Time-Fortune was $8,621,170, of 
which the newsmagazine brought in approximately $6,000,- 
000. Outside investments netted $562,295. For rent, salaries, 
production & distribution, other expenses went $6,594,076. 
Other deductions: $41,397. Allowance for federal income 
tax: $298,169. 

Time's books, according to Chicago Statisticians Gerwig 
& Gerwig, show total assets of $6,755,451. Liabilities, $3,- 
101,584. These figures, conventionally allowing $1 for name, 
prestige of Time, come far from reflecting actual prosperity 
of Luce, his enterprises. Sitting pretty are the boys. 


Transmogrified by this success are the offices, personnel of 
Time-Fortune. Last reliable report: Time, 308 employees; 
Fortune, 103; Cinemarch, 58; Radiomarch, 10; Architectural 
Forum, 40; Life, 47. In New York; total, 566. In Chicago, 
mailing, editorial, mechanical employees, 216. Grand total 
Timemployees on God's earth, 782. Average weekly recom- 
pense for informing fellowman, $45.67802. 

From first single office, Timen have come to bulge to 
bursting six floors of spiked, shiny Chrysler Building, oc- 


cupy 150 rooms, eat daily, many at famed Cloud Club, 
over 1,000 eggs, 500 cups of coffee, much bicarbonate of 
soda. Other offices: Cinemarch, 10th Avenue at 54th Street; 
Radiomarch, Columbia Broadcasting Building. 

Ornamented with Yale, Harvard, Princeton diplomas, 
stuffed fish, terrestrial globes are offices of Luce & other 
headmen; bleak, uncarpeted the writer's dingy lair. 
J Heir apparent to mantle of Luce is dapper, tennis-play- 
ing $35,ooo-a-year Roy Larsen, nimble in Radio- & Cine- 
march, vice-president & second largest stockholder in Time, 
Inc. Stock income: $120,000. 

fl Looming behind him is burly, able, tumbledown Yale- 
man Ralph McAllister Ingersoll, former Fortuneditor, now 
general manager of all Timenterprises, descendant of 400- 
famed Ward McAllister. Littered his desk with pills, un- 
guents, Kleenex, Socialite Ingersoll is Times No. 1 hypo- 
chondriac, introduced ant palaces for study & emulation of 
employees, writes copious memoranda about filing systems, 
other trivia, seldom misses a Yale football game. His salary: 
$30,000; income from stock: $40,000. 

fl Early in life Timeditor John Stuart Martin lost his left 
arm in an accident. Unhandicapped he, resentful of sym- 
pathy, Martin played par golf at Princeton, is a crack shot 
with a rifle or shotgun, holds a telephone with no hands, 
using shoulder & chin, chews paperclips. First cousin of Co- 
founder Hadden, joined in second marriage to daughter of 
Cunard Tycoon Sir Ashley Sparks, Timartin is managing 
editor of newsmagazine, has been nimble in Cinemarch, 
other Timenterprises, makes $25,000 a year salary, gets 
from stock $60,000. 

1f $20,000 salary, $20,000 from stock gets shyest, least- 
known of all Timeditors, Harvardman John S. Billings, Jr., 
now under Luce in charge of revamped Life, once Washing- 
ton correspondent for the Brooklyn Eagle, once National 

Time . . . Fortune . . . Life . . . Luce 13 

Affairs Editor for Time. Yclept "most important man in 
shop" by Colleague Martin, Billings, brother of famed 
muralist Henry Billings, is naive, solemn, absent-minded, 
once printed same story twice, wanted to print, as news, 
story of van Gogh's self-mutilation, drives to office in car 
with liveried chauffeur, likes Jones Beach, 
fl Fortuneditor Eric Hodgins is thin-haired, orbicular, no 
Big Three graduate. Formerly on Redhook, boy & girl in- 
forming Youth's Companion, Hodgins inherited Pill-Swal- 
lower Ingersoll's editorial job two years ago when latter was 
called to greater glory, higher usefulness, still writes much 
of content of magazine, is paid $15,000; from stock only 

f Doomed to strict anonymity are Time-Fortune staff 
writers, but generally known in spite of this are former 
Times bookritic John Chamberlain, Meistersinger Archi- 
bald MacLeish. Both out of sympathy with domineering 
business, both irked by stylistic restrictions, thorns to Luce 
as well as jewels they. Reward for lack of fame: Chamber- 
lain, $10,000; MacLeish, $15,000; each, two months' vaca- 

Brisk beyond belief are carryings-on these days in Luce's 
chromium tower. Time, marching on more militantly than 
ever, is a shambles on Sundays & Mondays, when week's 
news is teletyped to Chicago printing plant; Fortune, ener- 
getic, dignified, its offices smelling comfortably of cookies, 
is ever astir with such stupefying projects as sending the 
entire staff to Japan; new whoopsheet Life so deep in or- 
ganization that staff breakfasts are held to choose from 
6,000 submitted photographs the Nude of the Week; so 
harried perpetually all editors that even interoffice memo- 
randa are couched in familiar Timestyle,* that an appoint- 

* Sample Luce memorandum: "Let Time's editors next week put thought 
on the Japanese beetle. H. R. L." 


ment to lunch with Editor Luce must be made three weeks 
in advance. 

Caught up also in the whirlwind of progress are Time, 
Fortunes 19 maiden checkers. Bryn Mawr, Wellesley, Vas- 
sar graduates they, each is assigned to a staff writer, checks 
every word he writes, works hard & late, is barred by maga- 
zine's anti-feminine policy from editorial advancement. 


At work today, Luce is efficient, humorless, revered by col- 
leagues; arrives always at 9:15, leaves at 6, carrying armfuls 
of work, talks jerkily, carefully, avoiding visitors eye; 
stutters in conversation, never in speechmaking. In early 
days kept standing at Luce desk like butlers were writers 
while he praised or blamed; now most business is done by 
time-saving memoranda called "Luce's bulls." Prone he to 
wave aside pleasantries, social preliminaries, to get at once 
to the matter in hand. Once to interviewer who said, "I 
hope I'm not disturbing you," snapped Luce, "Well, you 
are." To ladies full of gentle misinformation he is brusque, 
contradictory, hostile; says that his only hobby is "convers- 
ing with somebody who knows something," argues still 
that "names make news," that he would not hesitate to print 
a scandal involving his best friend. 

Because of his Chinese birth, constantly besieged is Luce 
by visiting Orientals; he is polite, forbearing, seethes se- 
cretly. Lunch, usually in a private room at the Cloud Club, 
is eaten quickly, little attention paid to the food, much to 
business. He drinks not at all at midday, sparingly at all 
times, takes sometimes champagne at dinner, an occasional 
cocktail at parties. Embarrassed perhaps by reputation for 

Time . . . Fortune . . . Life . . . Luce 15 

unusual abstemiousness, he confesses proudly that he 
smokes too much. 

Serious, ambitious Yale standards are still reflected in 
much of his conduct; in indiscriminate admiration for 
bustling success, in strong regard for conventional morality, 
in honest passion for accuracy; physically, in conservative, 
baggy clothes, white shirts with buttoned-down collars, 
solid-color ties. A budding joiner, in New York, Luce be- 
longs to the Yale, Coffee House, Racquet & Tennis, Union 
& Cloud Clubs; owns a box at the Metropolitan; is listed in 
Who's Who & Social Register. 

Colder, more certain, more dignified than in the early 
days of the magazine, his prose style has grown less ebulli- 
ent, resembles pontifical Fortune rather than chattering 
Time. Before some important body he makes now at least 
one speech a year, partly as a form of self-discipline, partly 
because he feels that his position as head of a national insti- 
tution demands it. His interests wider, he likes to travel, 
meet & observe the Great. Five or six times in Europe, he 
has observed many Great & Near Great. Of a twenty-min- 
ute conversation with Duke of Windsor, then Prince of 
Wales, says only "Very interesting." Returning from such 
trips, he always provides staff members with 10 & 12-page 
memoranda carefully explaining conditions. 

Orated recently of conditions in this country: "Without 
the aristocratic principle no society can endure. . . . What 
slowly deadened our aristocratic sense was the expanding 
frontier, but more the expanding machine. . . . But the 
aristocratic principle persisted in the United States in our 
fetish of comparative success. . . . We got a plutocracy 
without any common sense of dignity and obligation. 
Money became more and more the only mark of success, 
but still we insisted that the rich man was no better than 


the poor man — and the rich man accepted the verdict. And 
so let me make it plain, the triumph of the mass mind is 
nowhere more apparent than in the frustration of the upper 
classes." Also remarked in conversation: "Trouble is — great 
anti-social development — is the automobile trailer. Greatest 
failure of this country is that it hasn't provided good homes 
for its people. Trailer shows that." 


Good-naturedly amused by Luce tycoon ambitions was Lila 
Hotz, of Chicago, whom he married there on Dec. 22, 1923. 
In 1935, the father of two boys, Luce was divorced by her 
in Reno on Oct. 5. Married in Old Greenwich, Conn., with- 
out attendants, on Nov. 23, 1935, were Luce, Novelist- 
Playwright Clare Boothe Brokaw, described once by Anglo- 
aesthete Cecil Beaton as "most drenchingly beautiful," 
former wife of elderly Pantycoon George Tuttle Brokaw. 

Two days before ceremony, "Abide with Me," by new, 
beautiful Mrs. Luce, was produced at the Ritz Theatre. 
Play dealt with young woman married to sadistic drunkard, 
was unfavorably reviewed by all newspaper critics.* 

In a quandary was Bridegroom Luce when Times own 
critic submitted a review suggesting play had some merit. 
Said he: "Show isn't that good. . . . Go back. . . . Write 
what you thought." Seven times, however, struggled the 

* Of it said Richard Watts, blue-shirted, moon-faced Tribune dramap- 

"One almost forgave 'Abide with Me' its faults when its lovely play- 
wright, who must have been crouched in the wings for a sprinter's start as 
the final curtain mercifully descended, heard a cry of 'author,' which was 
not audible in my vicinity, and arrived onstage to accept the audience's 
applause just as the actors, who had a head-start on her, were properly 
lined up and smoothed out to receive their customary adulation." 

Time . . . Fortune . . . Life . . . Luce 17 

writer before achieving an acceptable compromise between 
criticism, tact. 

BATHS . . . 

Long accustomed to being entertained, entertaining, is 
Mrs. Luce, intimate of Mr. & Mrs. A. Coster Schermerhorn, 
Mrs. and Mrs. Bernard M. Baruch, Jock Whitney, glistening 
stage & literary stars. Many were invited last summer to 
30-acre estate in Stamford to play tennis, croquet, swim; 
many, too, will come to 7,000-acre, $100,000 Luce planta- 
tion, near Charleston, S.C.; will sleep there in four stream- 
lined, prefabricated guest cottages. Given to first Mrs. Luce 
in divorce settlement, along with $500,000 in cash & securi- 
ties, was French Manoir at Gladstone, N.J., where Luce 
once planned to raise Black Angus cows, to become gentle- 
man farmer. 

Described too modestly by him as "smallest apartment in 
River House," * duplex at 435 East 52nd Street occupied 
last winter by Luce contained 15 rooms, 5 baths, a lavatory; 
was leased furnished from Mrs. Bodrero Macy for $7,300 
annually, contained many valuable French, English, Italian 
antiques, looked north and east on the river. In decor, Mrs. 
Luce prefers the modern; evasive is Luce. Says he: "J us t. 
like things convenient & sensible." Says also: "Whatever 
furniture or houses we buy in the future will be my wife's 
buying, not mine." 

* Smallest apartment in River House has six rooms, one bath. 



Accused by many of totalitarian leanings, of soaring jour- 
nalistic ambition, much & conflicting is the evidence on 
Luce political faith, future plans. By tradition a Tory, in 
1928 he voted for Alfred E. Smith, in 1932 for Herbert 
Hoover, last year for Alfred M. Landon. Long at outs with 
William Randolph Hearst, it was rumored that a recent visit 
to California included a truce with ruthless, shifting pub- 
lisher. Close friend for years of Thomas Lamont, Henry P. 
Davison, the late Dwight Morrow, it has been hinted that 
an official connection with the House of Morgan in the 
future is not impossible. Vehemently denies this Luce, 
denies any personal political ambition, admits only that he 
would like eventually to own a daily newspaper in New 

Most persistent, most fantastic rumor, however, declares 
that Yaleman Luce already has a wistful eye on the White 
House. Reported this Chicago's Ringmaster, added: "A 
legally-minded friend . . . told him that his Chinese birth 
made him ineligible. Luce dashed to another lawyer to 
check. Relief! He was born of American parents and prop- 
erly registered at the Consulate." 

Whatever the facts in that matter, indicative of Luce 
consciousness of budding greatness, of responsibility to 
whole nation, was his report to Times Board of Directors 
on March 19, 1936. Declaimed he: "The expansion of your 
company has brought it to a point beyond which it will 
cease to be even a big Small Business and become a small 
Big Business. . . . The problem of public relations also 
arises. Time, the Weekly Newsmagazine, has been, and 
still is, its own adequate apologist. Ditto, Fortune. But with 
a motion-picture journal, a nightly radio broadcast, and 

Time . . . Fortune . . . Life . . . Luce 19 

with four magazines, the public interpretation of your com- 
pany's alleged viewpoint or viewpoints must be taken with 
great seriousness." Certainly to be taken with seriousness 
is Luce at thirty-nine, his fellowmen already informed up 
to their ears, the shadow of his enterprises long across the 
land, his future plans impossible to imagine, staggering to 
contemplate. Where it all will end, knows God! 

Death in the Rumble Seat 

(With the Usual Apologies to Ernest Hemingway) 

Most people don't like the pedestrian part, and it is best not 
to look at that if you can help it. But if you can't help seeing 
them, long-legged and their faces white, and then the shock 
and the car lifting up a little on one side, then it is best to 
think of it as something very unimportant but beautiful and 
necessary artistically. It is unimportant because the people 
who are pedestrians are not very important, and if they 
were not being cogido by automobiles it would just be 
something else. And it is beautiful and necessary because, 
without the possibility of somebody getting cogido, driving 
a car would be just like anything else. It would be like read- 
ing "Thanatopsis," which is neither beautiful nor necessary, 
but hogwash. If you drive a car, and don't like the pedes- 
trian part, then you are one of two kinds of people. Either 
you haven't very much vitality and you ought to do some- 
thing about it, or else you are yellow and there is nothing 
to be done about it at all. 

If you don't know anything about driving cars you are 
apt to think a driver is good just because he goes fast. This 
may be very exciting at first, but afterwards there is a bad 
taste in the mouth and the feeling of dishonesty. Ann 
Bender, the American, drove as fast on the Merrick Road as 


Death in the Rumble Seat 21 

anybody I have ever seen, but when cars came the other 
way she always worked out of their terrain and over in the 
ditch so that you never had the hard, clean feeling of dan- 
ger, but only bumping up and down in the ditch, and 
sometimes hitting your head on the top of the car. Good 
drivers go fast too, but it is always down the middle of the 
road, so that cars coming the other way are dominated, 
and have to go in the ditch themselves. There are a great 
many ways of getting the effect of danger, such as staying 
in the middle of the road till the last minute and then 
swerving out of the pure line, but they are all tricks, and 
afterwards you know they were tricks, and there is nothing 
left but disgust. 

The cook: I am a little tired of cars, sir. Do you know any 

I know a great many stories, but I'm not sure that they're 

The cook: The hell with that. 

Then I will tell you the story about God and Adam and 
naming the animals. You see, God was very tired after he 
got through making the world. He felt good about it, but 
he was tired so he asked Adam if he'd mind thinking up 
names for the animals. 

"What animals?" Adam said 

"Those," God said. 

"Do they have to have names?" Adam said. 

"You've got a name, haven't you?" God said. 

I could see — 

The cook: How do you get into this? 

Some people always write in the first person, and if you 
do it's very hard to write any other way, even when it 
doesn't altogether fit into the context. If you want to hear 
this story, don't keep interrupting. 


The cook: O.K. 

I could see that Adam thought God was crazy, but he 
didn't say anything. He went over to where the animals 
were, and after a while he came back with the list of names. 

"Here you are," he said. 

God read the list, and nodded. 

"They're pretty good," he said. "They're all pretty good 
except that last one." 

"That's a good name," Adam said. "What's the matter 
with it?" 

"What do you want to call it an elephant for?" God said. 

Adam looked at God. 

"It looks like an elephant to me," he said. 

The cook: WeU? 

That's aU. 

The cook: It is a very strange story, sir. 

It is a strange world, and if a man and woman love each 
other, that is strange too, and what is more, it always turns 
out badly. 

In the golden age of car-driving, which was about 1910, 
the sense of impending disaster, which is a very lovely thing 
and almost nonexistent, was kept alive in a number of ways. 
For one thing, there was always real glass in the windshield 
so that if a driver hit anything, he was very definitely and 
beautifully cogido. The tires weren't much good either, and 
often they'd blow out before you'd gone ten miles. Really, 
the whole car was built that way. It was made not only so 
that it would precipitate accidents but so that when the 
accidents came it was honestly vulnerable, and it would fall 
apart, killing all the people with a passion that was very 
fine to watch. Then they began building the cars so that 
they would go much faster, but the glass and the tires were 
all made so that if anything happened it wasn't real danger, 

Death in the Rumble Seat 23 

but only the false sense of it. You could do all kinds of 
things with the new cars, but it was no good because it was 
all planned in advance. Mickey Finn, the German, always 
worked very far into the other car's terrain so that the two 
cars always seemed to be one. Driving that way he often 
got the faender, or the clicking when two cars touch each 
other in passing, but because you knew that nothing was 
really at stake it was just an empty classicism, without any 
value because the insecurity was all gone and there was 
nothing left but a kind of mechanical agility. It is the same 
way when any art gets into its decadence. It is the same 
way about s-x — 

The cook: I like it very much better when you talk about 
s-x, sir, and I wish you would do it more often. 

I have talked a lot about s-x before, and now I thought 
I would talk about something else. 

The cook: I think that is very unfortunate, sir, because 
you are at your best with s-x, but when you talk about auto- 
mobiles you are just a nuisance. 

Topless in Ilium 

(Mr. Aldous Huxley Imagines a Tender Passage Between Helen and 
Paris in the Manner of "Antic Hay," "Point Counter Point," and 
"Eyeless in Gaza") 

What a snout she had, he thought. Like a pig or, better, 
like some indecent marine slug. Fulgur canaliculata. That 
was it. The same obscene flaring nostrils, aimed at you like 
the twin barrels of a shotgun. He gave a little snort of pure 

"I love you," he said. 

"Oh, love," she murmured from some nether hell of waste 
and despair, and sketched him the anatomy of a smile. It 
would, he reflected, be pleasant to knock those celebrated 
teeth down her throat. 

"Was this the face that launch'd a thousand ships, And 
burnt the topless towers. . . ." 

It was possible, of course, that once she had been hand- 
some, in her own degraded fashion. But that was before she 
had been mutilated by the Greeks. (What degree of sophis- 
tication, incidentally, is necessary before one can really 
appreciate the stigmata?) It was certainly before she had 


Topless in Ilium 25 

begun to take naphtha. He felt only rage and humiliation 
that he loved her as he did, so that it would have been 
ecstasy to trip her up and sit on her. 

"What about Menelaus?" he asked suddenly. It was, of 
course, supremely fitting that she should have a husband. 
It added a thin musk of evil to what otherwise might have 
been a simple and vulgar liaison. How degrading, he 
thought, to mate like the animals, without fear or remorse. 
It occurred to him that civilized love was rather like ven- 
ison, best when it had gone a little bad, a little rotten. The 
sense of sin was a kind of sauce maison, rendering the 
whole sordid mess a little less nauseating, almost palatable 
to the connoisseur. 

"Menelaus?" she said in her dead voice. 

"Your husband," he explained with elaborate irony. 

"Oh," she said and gave a little hoot of laughter. "The 
same as usual, I imagine. Poor dear." 

He nodded. Menelaus had really behaved very badly. 
Quite hysterically, in fact. What limitless vulgarity always 
underlay the man of action! Even admitting that colonials 
were without any reasonable sense of proportion, the whole 
excursion had been absurd. All those ships and men! Quite 
as if he were setting out to discover a continent, and not 
simply to bring back a wife he had rather disliked in the 
first place. (It would certainly have required a more cul- 
tivated taste than Menelaus's to admire that ruined chic, 
that subtle ammonia of corruption. ) 

"I hear," she said indifferently, "that he's been inventing 
a horse." 

"A what?" 

"A wooden horse," she said from her perpetual deathbed. 
"He gets in it and they push him around. Such an inventive 


"But what on earth for?" 

"I expect he'll have them push him in here," she said. 
"He's really very much annoyed with you, you know." 

Her nose wrinkled a little in delicious anticipation. This 
bore and his apples! Some very interesting things would un- 
doubtedly happen to Paris when the Greeks finally caught 
him. Menelaus might not be much of a husband, but like 
all his family he was clever with his hands. She remembered 
those fascinating experiments with molten lead he had 
made on his slaves. 

"Oh," he said, "the old bourgeois prejudice against wear- 
ing horns. How unspeakably dreary." 

And how childish and illogical. We are all maggots on 
the same stupendous cheese, all intent on rooting out the 
choicest nastiness, and love, of course, the choicest nasti- 
ness of all. Incredible that anyone could suppose it mattered 
which slugs were mated with which. 

"I wouldn't be surprised," said Helen pleasantly, "if he 
began by cutting off your ears." 

How ugly she was — her face a mask of malignance and 
stupidity like those horrible little Nigerian primitives in 
the museum at Mycenae. He reflected again on the bottom- 
less degradation of his love for her, a passion based on his 
loathing for her mind and body, on his own dark and secret 
wish to destroy himself forever. He thought of the other 
planets spinning clear in space, only the earth infected with 
the disease of humanity, a surface putrescence so hideously 
expressed in this woman beside him. He leaned over and 
pulled her tawdry wig down over her eyes. 

"Dearest," he whispered. 

She gave her dreadful parody of a smile. 

The Factory and the Attic 

Small women in funny hats keep asking me how to tell a 
good short story from a bad one. For years, they complain, 
they have been reading such wholly disparate publications 
as Scribners and the Saturday Evening Post, miserably 
unable to determine what is Art and what is Tripe. At the 
time they came to me most of these women had arrived at 
some arbitrary solution of their own. One pinched little 
thing admitted that she had come to the point of judging 
literature purely on the basis of its nuisance value: that is, 
a story must be regarded as important only if it bored her 
to the edge of madness. Another defined significant stories 
as those dealing with persons who would have been in- 
tolerable to her socially. (She was particularly impressed 
by one about a rural spinster with an unconquerable de- 
sire to go walking in the rain with no clothes on. ) Still an- 
other reserved her approval for narratives in which nothing 
much ever seemed to happen. Curiously enough, this de- 
featist point of view was quite general; almost all the ladies 
assumed that literature, to be worthy of their admiration, 
must also make them unhappy. Unfortunately, I am not 
able to deny this theory altogether, since some moments of 
pain are inseparable from real culture, but it seems to me 
that any sound philosophy of criticism must go somewhat 
deeper. There are, in fact, almost infinite ramifications to 
be considered. Anxious to avoid the drain on my time 



caused by these endless appeals, in this article I have pre- 
pared a few tests for separating the sheep of modern fic- 
tion from its gilded and elegant goats. 

The first point to be considered in judging the merits of 
any story is, of course, the plot, and here, for purposes of 
comparison, I shall outline two which seem representative 
of the best and worst in magazine prose. The first is called 
"Even the Least of These, Thy Sparrows," and runs some- 
what as follows: 

Hector Le Boutillier, scion of an old Kentucky family, is 
wounded at Belleau Wood while attempting to bring back 
a wounded private, a colored man, from behind the Ger- 
man lines. When Hector stumbles into the trench with the 
wounded man on his back, his comrades are horrified to 
observe that his face has been almost entirely obliterated 
by a burst of shrapnel. He is rushed at once to a base hospi- 
tal, where he is placed under the care of a surgeon famous 
for his work in plastic surgery. Unfortunately, the damage 
wrought by the shell is so complete that the surgeon is un- 
able to tell what Hector looked like before he was hit, and 
obviously it would be absurd to equip him with a mean- 
ingless and irrelevant face made up out of the doctor's 
head. The United States Medical Corps, however, rises to 
the occasion and a cable is dispatched to the Le Boutil- 
liers in America asking them for recent and characteristic 
photographs of Hector. Through some error in the cable 
•office, Hectors name is transmitted as "Richard," which 
chances to be the name of a ne'er-do-well younger brother, 
who unknown to his family has deserted from the Allied 
armies and become a German spy. It is his photograph 
which reaches the surgeon, and when Hector leaves the 
operating-room he is wearing Richard's face. The story 
then leaps to the end of the war and to America, where the 
Le Boutilliers' home town has been wiped out by a passing 

The Factory and the Attic 29 

earthquake, so that there is nobody to recognize Hector 
(even as Richard) upon his return. Before the war, however, 
Richard had become engaged to an old-fashioned girl who 
lived in the Greenwich Village section of New York, where 
she seems to have been a little out of her element. Richard's 
actual intentions toward her had been far from honora- 
ble, but the war started too soon, and he drew a blank. 

Upon his return to America, Hector (in Richard's face) 
wanders around for a while trying to forget the loss of 
his rather extensive family, and eventually comes to the 
very city where the girl, whose name was Smyrna Phelps, 
is living. Finally, at a batik pull, they meet and Smyrna 
naturally supposes that Hector is Richard (on account of 
the face). She is so preposterously glad to see him that 
Hector, believing his brother dead, decides not to disillu- 
sion her. In a short time, too, he discovers that he has 
come to love her. They are married and are living quite 
happily in Montclair when the real Richard comes back to 
New York in search of Smyrna. Eventually he traces her 
to Montclair, and there is an extremely trying scene in 
which Richard accuses Hector of lifting both his face and 
his girl. At the end of it Hector promises to go away, leav- 
ing Smyrna to the real Richard, although she has discov- 
ered what a bounder he is. This looks pretty bad, but just as 
Hector is packing his bag to go away, a state trooper who 
had been in Richard's company abroad comes in and 
shoots him for being a German spy. This, of course, settles 
everything, and Smyrna contributes to the felicity of the 
moment by discovering that she is going to have a baby. 

The other story, which can be summarized rather more 
briefly, is called "Meg" and the plot, disregarding some of 
its profounder psychological undertones, goes something 
like this: 

At the age of fifteen Meg was seduced by the president 


of the First National Bank, who was old enough not only 
to be her father, but also to make it seem like a pretty good 
trick. For some reason, doubtless professional, he elected to 
stage this idyll in a safe-deposit vault, and consequently 
Meg grew up with a horror of being shut up in anything. 
By the time she was sixteen, even houses had become in- 
tolerable to her, and she began to sleep out in the fields 
beyond the village. Eventually she gave up all contact with 
the villagers. Once a month she trudged into town for 
supplies, a bent and tragic figure, wrapped in an atrocity 
of rags, muttering endlessly to herself. She began to drink, 
too, and under its influence her behavior grew even more 
outre; she took to stopping young girls on the streets and 
warning them against bankers. 

Inevitably this came to the ears of the matrons of the 
town, and at last (ironically enough, at the instigation of 
the banker's wife) Meg was arrested as a public nuisance 
and sentenced to a month in jail. She never served it. No 
sooner had the steel door of the cell closed behind her 
than Meg fell to the floor, dead. At the inquest the doctor 
said she died of fear. She thought they'd deposited her in 
a bank. 

Although the discerning reader can have no real doubt 
about the comparative merits of these samples, it might be 
well to examine the technical considerations which are in- 
volved. By any enlightened standards it is apparent that 
"Even the Least of These, Thy Sparrows" belongs em- 
phatically among the goats. We are struck at once by the 
author's basic insincerity — by his use of the most palpable 
literary tricks, and especially by his persistent overplay of 
coincidence. We are quite ready to accept one, and the 
mistake by which Hector was made to look like his brother 
seems both plausible and ingenious. From this point, how- 

The Factory and the Attic 31 

ever, we become involved in a welter of fortuitous circum- 
stance. We are asked not only to believe that Hector's 
whole family was wiped out by an earthquake (in Ken- 
tucky, where they are extremely rare ) , that by pure chance 
he encountered his brother's fiancee in a city as large as 
New York, but also that Richard's old companion, the 
trooper, appeared at so critical a juncture of the story. In 
this connection, it seems to me that "Sparrows" exhibits an- 
other serious flaw in that, since both brothers looked pre- 
cisely alike, it was just as probable that he would have shot 
one as the other. 

Altogether we find that this story is an almost perfect 
example of commercial prose at its worst, written with an 
eye on the movies, and with no discernible relation to ac- 
tual contemporary life. 

"Meg," on the other hand, is a little gem of morbid psy- 
chology, moving with majestic inevitability from its tragic 
inception to its even more tragic denouement. The setting is 
simple, even drab; the plot has none of the feverish activity, 
the insane complexity, which are so apparent in "Spar- 
rows," and the protagonists, Meg and the banker, are not, 
as were Hector and Richard, actuated by any preposterous 
nobility or even more preposterous villainy. They are peo- 
ple very like you and me, and their behavior is doubtless 
what yours or mine would be if we were either a girl who 
had been enticed into a vault by a banker or a banker who 
had simultaneous access both to a girl and a vault. 

For all these reasons it should be abundantly clear that 
"Sparrows" and "Meg" represent the poles of modern fic- 
tion. To be doubly sure, however, let us examine the styles 
in which they are written. First let us consider "Sparrows" 
— specifically the scene in which Hector relinquishes 
Smyrna to his brother. A few paragraphs will do: 


Over the mantel there was a clock and to Hector it seemed that 
presently the ticking of the clock resolved itself into words. " 'Venge- 
ance is mine/ saith the Lord." This over and over until at last the 
bright hatred went out of his soul and he knew a curious peace. And 
again "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." And at 
last Hector turned from the window and it seemed to the two watch- 
ing him that there was a light, lambent and unearthly, on his face. 
He put his hand on the doorknob and smiled at them. 

"I am going," he said gently, "away." 

And while they stood transfixed the door opened and closed and he 
was gone. 

"Hector," cried Smyrna, but the room gave her back only the sound 
of her own voice and the slow and fatal ticking of the clock. 

The passage from "Meg" describes her last journey from 
the hut in the fields to the village and goes as follows: 

Meg walked slowly along the muddy road. It was hot and ragged 
children ran out of the farmhouses that bordered the road and threw 
stones at her. When one of the stones hit her Meg would turn around 
in the road, and the children would run screaming back into the 
houses, afraid of her tall, pale madness. Meg did not know they were 
stones. She thought they were half-dollars and that the children were 
bankers. Once she caught one of the children and broke its neck. That 
made her laugh. 

"I guess that will learn you to get tough with me, Mr. James Walde- 
mar," she said. 

I see no reason for further comment. If any of my readers 
are still unable to distinguish between the produce of the 
factory and attic, with a clear conscience I leave them in 
Montclair, with Hector and Smyrna. The rest of you, im- 
perturbably cultured, can follow me over the hill and down 
into despair and death with Meg. 

Glorious Calvin 

(A Critical Appreciation Many Years Later) 

The comic art of Calvin Coolidge was a thing so subtle 
that it almost defied analysis, for, like all great actors, his 
was the technique of implication. In fact, in his ability to 
suggest frustration — the bitter futility of all living — by such 
small things as an eyebrow infinitesimally raised, an incom- 
plete, embarrassed gesture, he was equalled only by the 
immortal Chaplin, only occasionally approached by Harry 
Langdon. As I write this it occurs to me to doubt whether 
this man, who was known and loved by millions of movie- 
goers, was essentially a comedian. There was more than a 
hint of tragedy in the shy little figure staring with solemn 
bafflement on an inexplicable world. There was a great 
pathos about him as he went awkwardly and unhappily 
through the gaudy antics which were so hilariously at vari- 
ance with his appearance. This great sense of the comic 
value of paradox was never better illustrated than in the 
magnificent film in which, resplendent in buckskin and 
feathers, he was created a chieftain of the Blackfeet In- 
dians. While tom-toms beat under a copper sky, naked 
red bodies circled in a furious dance about a tightmouthed 
little man with the edge of a stiff white collar showing at 
the neck of his costume and the toes of sturdy black boots 



peeping out under the gay fringe at the bottom of his 
trousers. His expression, which never varied throughout the 
ceremony, suggested the faintly apprehensive geniality of 
an elderly gentleman who has been dragooned into a game 
of Post Office. The effect was irresistible. 

This intelligent emphasis on contrast was present in all 
Coolidge's camera work. I recall happily the film in which, 
attired in a cowboy suit with "Cal" stenciled across the seat 
of the trousers (a touch of genius, by the way), he made 
timid overtures to a faintly derisive steer. Incidentally, an 
adroit and characteristic touch was added to this picture 
by a subtitle, reading "coolidge is amused by rodeo," 
which was immediately followed by a glimpse of the come- 
dian, his back turned morosely on the rodeo, staring with 
horrid dejection at nothing whatever. 

Coolidge, ascetic in cap and gown, receiving a degree 
from the president of a university; Coolidge, in yachting 
costume, with a vague hint of nausea in his expression, 
standing at the rail of the Mayflower; Coolidge, in overalls, 
thriftly chopping kindling against the bitter Massachusetts 
winter ( the glittering nose of an enormous Packard appear- 
ing in a corner of this scene was a note of sheer and 
beautiful idiocy); Coolidge, the fisherman; Coolidge, the 
President of the United States — the man s comic sense was 
unerring and his range apparently infinite. 

In passing, it is perhaps worth noting that while, unlike 
Chaplin, Coolidge varied the major details of his costume 
with each part, the stiff collar was a constant item. With 
an unfailing instinct for the incongruous, he chose it as the 
inevitable label of the urban, the clerkly, the humdrum. 
Infinitely more subtle than Chaplin's cane, derby, and 
baggy trousers, it was at the same time far more effective. 
To take a setting as strange and beautiful as the one used 
in a picture he made in Georgia — bearded Spanish oaks, 

Glorious Calvin 35 

oxcarts, the lovely keening of spirituals — and in an instant 
reduce it to absurdity by the introduction of a stiff collar, 
that was something very like genius. 

While Coolidge depended upon simple incongruity for 
most of his effects, when he did introduce gags they were 
incomparable. I have in mind a bit, again in the Georgia 
picture, in which the comedian entered surrounded by 
secret-service men in business suits, uneasily raised a gun 
to his shoulder and fired once into the air. A subtitle was 
then flashed on the screen — "tribute to a steady hand and 
a clear eye" — and the next picture showed us two guides 
shouldering a long pole, bowed under the weight of a deer, 
two or three smaller animals which appeared to be raccoons, 
and several wild ducks. The expression of the comedian's 
face as he studied this exhibit — wild surmise succeeded by 
a nervous and deprecating smile — I regard as one of the 
screen's great comic achievements. 

Unlike many cinema favorites, the introduction of the 
talking picture held no terrors for Coolidge. His voice, 
happily, was perfectly in keeping with the part he has 
chosen to portray — dry, nasal, utterly without inflection. 
The lines, which I am told he made up himself, were 
miracles of brevity and did much to further the effect of 
anticlimax upon which his art depended. Again in the 
Georgia picture there was the moment when the comedian 
rode onto the scene, seated upon an ancient wooden cart 
drawn by oxen. His progress through the green tunnel 
made by the overhanging trees was attended by the wail- 
ing of spirituals, the cracking of whips, and the muffled 
clump of the oxen's hooves. It was a moment of rare, almost 
intolerable beauty. The cart stopped as it reached the fore- 
front of the picture and the spirituals died away. There 
was a sudden silence, which was broken by Coolidge's 
companion, who addressed him in a tone of great defer- 


ence upon a problem apparently of national importance. 
. . . "What is your solution of that, Mr. President?" 

The comedian smiled nervously, stared at the oxen, but 
did not reply. His companion tried again. 

"What would you think of putting a tax on gasoline?" 
This was obviously intended to be facetious, but the 
comedian considered it with perfect solemnity. At last his 
face brightened. 

"Wal," he said, "I don't think I'd be in favor of that." 
The spirituals rose again, and the cart drove on. 
When Coolidge left the pictures, he was succeeded by 
Herbert Hoover, a comedian whose work displayed certain 
similarities. To the critical mind, however, it was thin 
and derivative, a self-conscious echo of his predecessor's 
magnificent technique. I doubt if we shall ever see the Mas- 
ter's like again. 

Shad Ampersand 

(A Novel of Time and the Writer, Tentatively Based On 
"'Cass Timberlane" A Novel of Husbands and Wives) 

The city of Grand Revenant, in High Hope County and the*, 
sovereign state of Nostalgia, has a population of 34,567, 
according to the official census taker, a vast and bumbling 
liar, receiver of puny bribes and secret high acolyte of the 
poems of Algernon Charles Swinburne. 

Grand Revenant is 49.6 miles from Zenith and 99.2 from 
Gopher Prairie. 

It was founded in 1903, a year that also saw the birth, 
at Kitty Hawk, N. C, of a strange, boxlike contrivance 
that held the bright seeds of death for Coventry and 
Nagasaki and other proud cities, half the world away. 

Its pioneer settler was old Cornelius Ampersand, a 
prodigious seducer of Indians along the thundering marge 
of Lake Prolix and on the cold, improbable trails that lead 
from Baedeker and Larousse to Mount Thesaurus. Corn 
was a He-Man, a Wowser, a High Anointed Member of the 
Sacred and Splendiferous Tribe of Good Scouts, and if his 
thin, despairing wife often wept alone in the night, nobody 



knew — except perhaps her two or three hundred closest 

In the years since old Corn raped his last squaw (and 
how those golden girls would giggle in the dusk!), Grand 
Revenant had grown like an angry weed in the fertile soil of 
the prairie. 

Factories came — Wilson & Fadiman, who ravaged the 
little, firm-breasted hills for copper for moot points; Trill- 
ing & Cowley, who made the smoothest, shiniest, most 
astoundingly complicated little instruments for determin- 
ing tension and slack (it was hard to say what everybody 
did before it was possible to determine slack to one-ten- 
thousandth part of an inch) ; Mencken & Nathan, who man- 
ufactured Hortex and were said to have the seventh largest 
mangle in the state of Nostalgia. 

Stores were born — the Mad Mode Mart, Avis Cormorant, 
prop. (Miss Cormorant was a nymphomaniac and, very 
discreetly, a German spy, but her chic was the despair of 
her rival, Elsie Drear, who was a virgin and an Episcopa- 
lian); Blitberg's Department Store which sold everything 
from needles to yachts, and if one or two salesgirls died 
each week from a strange and terrible disease called 
Dreiser's Botch, there was surely no kinder or merrier man 
in all Revenant than old Sam Blitberg; Dirge & Mouseman 
(Mrs. Mouseman, nee Birdie Jump, was that object of al- 
most inconceivable grandeur, a former inmate of the Social 
Register), where you could buy, for very little more than 
it would cost to build supernal beauty or to stamp out 
Yaws, rare stones of devious and bloody history. 

Other noble monuments — the Revenant Museum of Art, 
which boasted a Modigliani and a Dali and a whole 
roomful of Grant Woods, but which was chiefly notable for 
its swimming pool which was as deep and blue as a lake; 
Revenant Junior High School, which regularly and gratify- 

Shad Ampersand 39 

ingly beat the upstart team from East Hemingway in trie 
annual marathon, and if very few of her graduates could 
tell you who wrote Thanatopsis or even Mantrap, they 
usually proved astonishingly nimble at selling not too 
aqueous real estate and beautifully shiny automobiles, 
which often ran quite well; and, always and most partic- 
ularly, Mme. Moriarity's bowling parlors, where the nicker- 
ing males of Revenant betook themselves for curious de- 
lights, which sometimes they even actually enjoyed. 

Churches sprang up, to the glory of a Fat God, whose 
other names were Baal and Moloch and Ahriman and 
Progress and Rugged Individualism. 

Hotels and restaurants — the Revenant Inn, which trav- 
ellers had been known to compare favorably with the glit- 
tering Bellevue-Stratford in Philadelphia, but at which there 
was no room for the Indians whose doomed campfires had 
once glowed where now its flying towers mocked the sky; 
Doug's Hotburger, where the cop on the beat, a cold and 
melancholy man, dropped in nightly to sigh: "Geez, you 
take my wife. A good woman, I guess, but no get-up-and- 
go to her like some of these peppy society dames. And 
talk! Golly! One of these days maybe I'll have to shut the 
ole girl up/' At six o'clock one bitter January morning, he 
did, very neatly and irrevocably, using the old .44 service 
revolver with which he had sworn to uphold the law; the 
Heyday Grille, where Doc Kennicott and George Babbitt 
and Sam Dodsworth and all the glorious he-male company 
of competent seducers (about once a year, Babbitt con- 
ducted a fumbling, inconclusive experiment with some 
derisive young woman in a canoe) and two-fisted drinkers 
(sometimes, uneasily, they had a cocktail before lunch) 
met every Friday to bumble cheerfully: "Well, I dunno 
what you other, uh, homo sapiensibuses think, but it strikes 
this not-so-humble observer that this lil ole burg is sure 


goin straight to trie twenty-three skiddoos." Solemnly, 
they agree that Grand Revenant could not compare in 
splendor with Zenith and Gopher Prairie and Paris and New 
York; secretly, they knew that she was strange and beauti- 
ful beyond all the other cities of the earth. 


Shad Ampersand, old Corn's grandson, lived in a neat 
$26,500 bungalow called Christmas Past, on Revenant 
Heights, overlooking the brisk, aspiring town. He was a tall, 
ramshackle hayrick of a man of fifty-six, copper red (a 
testimony, it was whispered, to old Corn's prowess with the 
squaws) and sad of eye, like a water spaniel or an early 
Donatello. An admirer of loneliness and rye whiskey and 
thin, hawk-vivid girls, who listened with vast politeness 
while he explained such recondite matters as Arbitrary 
Microcosm, Limited Frame of Reference, Elementary Sym- 
bolism, and Dated or Synthetic Idiom, about all of which 
they knew precisely nothing and most enthusiastically 
cared even less. 

Sitting on his tiny porch on one of the brightest, briefest, 
and most poignant of all October afternoons, Shad was very 
weightily considering the profound mystery of Sex. 

"I'm not one of these highbrow geezers like W. Somerset 
Maugham or John Q. Galsworthy," he plondered heavily, 
"and it sure gives me a pain in the ole bazookus to hear 
some long-haired so-called intellectual claiming that love 
and marriage and kiddies and everything a dumb ole 
roughneck like me has come to hold most sacred is nothing 
more nor less than something called the Biological Urge." 

"Hey, you don't have to talk to me like that," said 

Shad Ampersand 41 

Trenda Boneside sharply. "I'm not the Pulitzer Prize Com- 

She was a small, fierce kitten of a girl, who had lived for 
nineteen eager, sniffing years with her parents on a farm in 
Remnant, just across the state line. 

"M? Nope. See what you mean," he said placatingly. She 
was a passionate white flame on a cigar-store lighter. He 
tried to imagine her cooking his breakfast. Tried and most 
conspicuously failed. 

"No, you don't at all," she snapped at him, this brisk 
fox terrier of a girl. "You listen to me, Shad Ampersand. 
I'm not one of those old girls of yours — Carol or Leora or 
that awful Dods worth woman, whatever her name was." 

"Fran," he said humbly. 

"Fran. Well, anyway, I'm not. Maybe that old hillbilly 
talk was all right for them, and even the American Mer- 
cury. But with me you can just talk like anybody else." 


"That's another thing!" she cried furiously. "That 'M'! 
What the hell is that supposed to be? The name of a mov- 
ing picture?" 

"Gee, Tren," he sighed. "It's only an experiment in 
phonetics. You know, how to get something down the way it 
really sounds. As I was telling ole Doc Bongflap . . ." 

Now she was really a tigress. 

"'Bongflap,'" she wailed. "I've known you for a long 
time, Shad Ampersand, and I've certainly heard some ter- 
rible names — Vergil Gunch and Roscoe Geake and Adelbert 
Shoop — but that's the worst ever. Nobody in the world 
was ever called Bongflap." 

"Well, maybe not, but, drat it, when an author wants to 
suggest how a character . . ." 

"I know all about that," she said, "and I know all about 


Charles Dickens, too, and you both make me sick. My God, 
even Tarkington wouldn't call anybody Bongflap. Or Tim- 
berlane, either, for that matter. Timberlane. Timber line. 
Hansen and Chamberlain ought to be able to get that one, 
all right, but I think it stinks. I keep thinking it's Tamber- 
lane or Timberleg." 

"Aren't we getting a little off the subject, Tren?" he said 

"I don't know. What was the subject?" 

"Well, uh, love." 

"Oh, that" she yawned. "What about it?" 

"Well, uh," he fumbled. She was a laughing brook of a 
girl, cool, diamond-bright, a wanderer in secret loveliness. 
He dreamed of her in a gingham apron, cooking his break- 
fast. Golly! "Uh, I thought we might get married," he 
whinnied. It was so perhaps that Paris whispered to Helen 
before they came to the City of the Topless Towers, so the 
Roman gave his soul to Egypt's queen on the dreaming 
bosom of the Nile. She looked at him and suddenly her 
heart was in her eyes. 

"Shad!" she trilled, and now she was a bell. 

"Wife!" he clamored through their urgent kiss, and 
miraculously it was a word in nowise stained with use. 


The little orange cat called Pox stretched languorously in 
Shad Ampersand's lap. 

"I know you're lonely since your wife, Trenda, left you 
last November to join Blight Grimes, the polo player and 
nimble seducer, at his hotel in Chicago, Illinois," she 
mewed. She was a very fetching device of a cat, an explana- 
tory butler at curtain rise in a Lonsdale comedy. 

Shad Ampersand 43 

Shad scratched her ears and thought: I should have 
known all along about Tren and Blight. The time they went 
away together for a week back in March and Trenda said 
— oh, she was very innocent and airy about it! — that they'd 
just gone up to Alaska to look at polo ponies; the time I 
found them upstairs in bed and they said they were just 
lying down because their feet hurt. I must have been pretty 
credulous, he decided, and Pox blinked her copper eyes in 
sardonic agreement. 

"You're damn right," she purred, "but now, of course, 
she has delirium tremens and this Grimes character isn't 
exactly the kind of man you can picture running up and 
down stairs with paraldehyde and strait jackets. There's a 
strange streak of cruelty in him." 

He nodded, but he was thinking despairingly: I must 
have failed her somehow. Maybe I was wrong to want to 
keep her here in Christmas Past, pasting up scrapbooks for 
an old galoot like me — Blight, doggone his hide, was only 
forty-nine and lithe and puissant as a sword — when she 
ought to be running around with kids her own age, going 
to the movies and coming out with her head all full of stars 
and dreams (as a matter of fact, he knew she loathed the 
movies), having a soda with the Gang at Bleeck's and feed- 
ing nickels into the juke box for "Smiles" and "Margie," 
maybe even being kissed, in sweet and childish innocence, 
in the back seat of a Chevrolet. 

"Pope Hartford," said Pox, who was also a mind-reader. 


"Pope Hartford," repeated the cat irritably. "You might 
as well stick to the period. And while I think of it, you can 
lay off that 'M' with me, too." 

Anyway, he had failed her, his lost and golden girl, 
and she was in Chicago with Blight. He looked at his 
watch. 11:46. Probably they were back from the theatre 


now and up in their suite and Blight was slipping the little 
silver-fox cape from her shoulders. 

"His heart contracted," murmured Pox. 

"M, uh, I mean what?" 

"Don't keep making me say everything twice, for God's 
sake. 'His heart contracted/ That goes in there somewhere. 
In parentheses. After the second 'and/ I should say. It's 
one of your mannerisms, though not a very fortunate one. 
Also, you seem to have forgotten that she's on the sauce, 
if you'll pardon the expression." 

Trenda spifflicated, swizzled, tiddly. He knew it was 
the truth, but the thought was a sharp agony, an unthink- 
able desecration, as if he saw the slender, terrible beauty 
of the Samothrace deep in foul mud and marred with the 
droppings of obscene and dreadful birds. 

"I think you're overreaching yourself there," said Pox. 
"Too many modifiers, and it's a pretty elaborate image. 
After all, you aren't Henry James." 

"Golly, Pox— " 

"Ah, the hell with it. Let it go. It's your stream of con- 
sciousness, thank God, not mine." 

In his despair, his cold, unutterable loss, Shad Amper- 
sand began to think of all the world, and Pox looked at 
him sharply for a moment and then hopped off his lap 
and left the room. Shad thought: Marriage. A man and a 
woman — him and Tren, Romeo and Juliet, Philemon and 
Baucis, Ruth and, and, drat it, who was that guy — anyway, 
they fell in love — oh, Tren, sweet, we must have been in 
love the night we read "Gideon Planish" until the stars 
went out! — and they promised to love, honor, and obey — 
golly, the most beautiful words in the English language, 
except, of course, maybe some parts of Shakespeare — till 
death you did part. But then something happened. One 
day they woke up and the magic was gone. ( He and Tren 

Shad Ampersand 45 

were having breakfast, Homogenized Virtex and Spookies, 
and suddenly, appallingly, she cried, "Shad! I'm going 
away with Blight! Right this minute! He's going to take 
me to London, Paris, Berlin — Gee, I've always wanted to 
see the Taj Mahal and all those cute little Androgynes or 
whatever you call 'em — and we're going to take along a 
sleeping bag, you know, like in that Hemingway book I 
read some of, and camp right out on the biggest darn ole 
Alp we can find." He had burbled, "Gee, that sounds 
mighty interesting, Tren. Yes, sir. Like to take a little trip 
sometime myself," but the Spookies were ashes in his 
mouth.) Anyway, it always ended — either in the hideous, 
clinging slime of the divorce court, or else — and this was 
unutterably worse — in the terrible, icy vacuum of indiffer- 
ence, the final, shameful acceptance of infidelity. ("You 
ought to get yourself a girl, Shad," she had told him one 
night; as usual, she was sitting on Blight's lap, knitting 
a new-fangled sock. "Why don't you call up Avis 
Gormorant? There's sl cheerful little giver for you. Or may- 
be one of those Piutes you say old Corn was always talking 
about." He had almost struck her then.) It was this, this 
modern cynicism, this flat denial of marriage, not the Com- 
munists or the Fascists or the Technocrats or even the hot- 
eyed disciples of Fourier and Adam Smith, that was de- 
stroying America. In the ultimate scheme of things, the 
continuing marriage of Tren and Shad Ampersand, or, if 
you chose, of plain Helen and Robert Lynd, was more 
important than — 

"Hey," said Pox, putting his head around the door, "I 
wouldn't disturb you, except you didn't seem to be get- 
ting anywhere in particular with that editorial. Anyway, 
she's back." 

"Who?" spurted Shad, though his heart obliteratingly 


"Who the hell did you think?" said Pox scornfully. 
"Little Round Heels. With a hangover I could swing on 
by my tail." 

She came in then, with a glad, unsteady rush, a broken 
cry, into his waiting arms, and if she was damaged, if she 
was no longer the bright, imperious child his dreams had 
known, but something harder, wiser, and infinitely sad, 
he had no eyes to see. 

"Tren, baby!" he whispered fiercely in her hair. 

"Shad!" she breathed, and gave him the ruined glory 
of her smile. After all, she thought, stroking the remem- 
bered kindness of his cheek, you always have to figure 
that the old horror is practically indestructible, there 
ought to be plenty of books still batting around in him for 
all the endless years to come. 

"Nice going, sister," murmured Pox, and most discreetly 
shut the door. 

The Education of Henry Apley 

(A Brief Grapple with the Boston Legend After Reading the 
Complete Works of Mr. J. P. Marquand on the Subject) 

Grindle Point was always best in the fall. If I knew how to 
write, I could tell how the old river went dreaming by in the 
sun and how the copper beeches marched down to its bank 
in strict and orderly procession. Sometimes in the morning, 
before the mist had burned away, the trees looked like silver 
ghosts and there were diamonds in the grass on the lawn. 
Time itself seemed to hang suspended in that clear, level 
light, so it was easy to believe that all the people who had 
once lived there were there still and always would be. As 
I've said, however, I am not a writer, and all I know is that 
I am part of Grindle Point. It is where I belong. 

I shall never forget the day I came back to it after the 
war. My father was in his study, reading the Transcript and 
eating an apple, as he always did in the late afternoon. 
"Hello," he said. "Kill any Germans?" 
"Eight or nine," I said. "Nothing to amount to much." 
"I suppose not," he said. "Naturally you were decorated?" 
"Well, yes," I said. I hadn't meant to tell anybody about 
the medal, because there is nothing worse than showing off. 
I only hoped he wouldn't mention it to the servants. 



"You look older," he said. "Probably time you were think- 
ing of getting married." 

"I don't know/' I said. "I've never been much good at that 
kind of thing." 

"An awkward business," said my father. "Going off that 
way with a comparatively strange woman." 

I could see he was embarrassed. He wanted to tell me 
something, but it was hard because we had never talked 
together very freely. 

"A damned awkward business," he repeated irritably. 
"They ought to have told you about it at Harvard. I suppose 
it's customary these days to assume that a gentleman knows 
about these things instinctively, but sometimes he doesn't." 

"Yes, sir," I said. 

"All a man can do is try to play the game," he said. "It 
won't be easy, especially with your training, but the Apleys 
have always got through it somehow. With me it was always 
something one owed to Harvard. A matter of loyalty." 

I could understand that. Harvard had made me what I 
was, and the least I could do in return was to make a certain 
amount of effort. 

"I'll do my best, sir," I said. 

Just the same, I wasn't happy when I got up to my old 
room and started unpacking my bag. Outside my window 
the river lay opalescent in the twilight, but for a moment I 
saw it as a dark and relentless torrent bearing me on into the 
unknowable future, and I shuddered. I didn't want to get 
married; I just wanted to go back to Harvard. 


I was bringing George Hill's trunk up from the cellar. It was 
pretty heavy, and I put it down for a minute outside the 

The Education of Henry Apley 49 

library door. I didn't mean to listen, of course, but I couldn't 
help hearing them inside. 

"We've got to be careful," said Jane. "He may be feeble- 
minded, but he isn't blind." 

George laughed. "He went to Harvard, didn't he?" he 

I came in and put the trunk down. My wife was sitting on 
George's lap. She looked tired, and I felt guilty. It was prob- 
ably an imposition to ask her to entertain George, because 
after all he was my guest. 

"Who went to Harvard?" I asked idiotically. 

"Oh, my God," said Jane. 

"Rutherford B. Hayes," said George. "He was the typical 
Harvard man — dense but energetic." 

George often talked that way, probably because he had 
gone to school at St. Paul's in Garden City instead of the 
right one. Afterward, of course, he'd run sixty yards against 
Yale with a broken neck, and he'd made Hedgehog and the 
Scapula Club, but he never seemed to feel the same way 
about Harvard as the rest of us. 

"Listen, clumsy," said Jane. "How about getting on with 
that trunk?" 

"Well," I said, "I thought I might just sit down here with 
you two for a minute and have a drink. My feet hurt." 

"Never mind about your feet," said Jane. "You get that 
trunk out in the car. George and I have to start right away 
if we're going to get to New York before it's dark." 

"You're going to New York?" I asked. "You and George?" 

"Just for the week-end," said George. "You don't mind, 
do you?" 

"Of course not," I said, "but some people might think it 
was a little odd. You know how it is in Boston." 

"My God," said Jane, "I think he's jealous!" 

"Of old George?" That made me laugh. I knew a lot of 


things had changed since I was at Harvard, but of course 
there were a lot of other things that never changed. I hadn't 
quite liked George's remark about Rutherford B. Hayes, 
who, incidentally, had only gone to the law school, but he 
was my best friend and I knew he was a gentleman. He 
might be wrong about some things, but he'd be right about 
the important ones, and that was what really mattered. 

They came out while I was still strapping the trunk onto 
the car, and climbed into the front seat. George started the 

"Good-bye," I said. "Have a good time." 

"Good-bye, darling," said Jane. "Don't forget to put the 
cat out." 

It was like Jane to think about the cat, even when she was 
tired and upset. I smiled as I watched the car dropping out 
of sight down the drive. Things often work out a lot better 
than you have any business to hope they will. 

Evas Deathbed Revisited 

(The following play is an account of a nightmare experienced by a 
man who went to a play by Mr. Maxwell Anderson and then went 
home and tried to get to sleep by rereading Uncle Tom's Cabin. Most 
of the speeches are supposed to be in blank verse, so the actors' voices 
should be imagined as swooping around a good deal, rhythmically, 
like the cars on a roller coaster. How to raise Little Eva up and get 
her out the window is a hard technical problem, but it ought to 
be attempted because this business was particularly effective in the 
dream. The whole thing probably needs some kind of banjo accom- 

little eva (who is not going to last much longer): What 
says it by the clock, by that shrewd handyman of Time 
there on the wall? 

st. clare (her father): Four-forty-one. Four-forty-one or 

little eva: So dark for such a time! So dark a time re- 
gardless of the clock, when honest men must suffer for their 
skins — the accidental difference in the shape and stain of 
that which gives us color. Father! 

st. clare: Eva, dear? 



little eva: What is it, please, that makes some black, 
some white? You, white; Tom, black; and all the world 
divided thus in two? 

st. clare: You are unwell. 

little eva: Unwell? No, well! I'm going home. To God! 

st. clare: To God? And where is God, or what? 

little eva (with tender amusement) :. He is no thing, I 
think, that you would know. No wheel, no gear, no formula, 
no strict pragmatic pattern or design that you can study 
from a book. "What's God?" God's love; God's Uncle Tom, 
or Mr. Lincoln, or a daisy in a field. 

st. glare: She's fading fast! The fever in her blood gives 
rise to thoughts like these. Oh, Tom! Oh, Uncle Tom! 

uncle tom (entering left and removing a stovepipe hat) : 
Yassuh, boss. I'se comin'. 

st. clare: She's dying, Tom! 

uncle tom: Dyin'? Whut is death? De faulty chemistry 
ob our po' flesh may melt. De atoms change aroun'. De earth 
git back to earth. De soul don' nebba die! 

little eva (expiring fast): God bless you, Tom! This 
rough, untutored mind has its own metaphysic. The lore of 
jungle priests, the atavistic sense of secrets lost before our 
time, survive, I think, in this poor woolly pate. 

uncle tom: Dat's right, Miss Eva. De beat ob Congo 
drums ain't lost; it's runnin' in ma blood. Ah ain't forgot de 
black man's lore! 

st. clare: But Tom is still a slave. 

little eva: All that will pass. Machines now building in 
the North will change the face of this unhappy land, this 
rich, agrarian South. Steel hands that move by steam will 
pluck our cotton, and the slave, without his useful function 
in the scheme, will vanish from our fields. 

uncle tom: We all be free? To wuk, to lub, to vote? 

little eva: The vote can't come at first. The subtle rot, 

Evas Deathbed Revisited 53 

the slow decay of slavery, has bit too deep. The black must 
earn the franchise, prove that he can grasp the awful con- 
cept of the state. Then he may vote — the half made whole, 
the shackled serf made free, prepared for life as I'm pre- 
pared for — 

st. clare: Ah, don't say that! Don't say the word! I can- 
not let you go! 

little eva ( beginning to levitate ) : But go I must. Al- 
ready I can hear the sweet and muted humming of the stars, 
already see God's infinite plantation. 

st. clare: Oh, no! 

uncle tom: Whut it look like up dah, chile? 

little eva (about half way up to the ceiling): Oh, fair! 
Oh, very fair! The work of many hands well done by one 
machine; no tangled laws to bind bright, imperious wings; 
the people free to love and pray; no hunger, hate, or sickness 
of the flesh. 

uncle tom: Whut form ob government dey got, Missy? 

little eva {heading out of the window): The best of 
each we know. The strong and wise are still in charge, but 
without hardship to the weak. The brighter angels near the 
throne use their position but to serve those farther off. It is a 
blend of all the sweetest dreams men dream — Democracy 
well ordered and controlled, the Total State where all de- 
crees are just, a Soviet where men still own the land. 

uncle tom: I'se scared dat ain't goin' to wuk so good, 
Miss Eva. 

little eva: It will! Just pray for faith, poor Tom! Dear 
Father, pray! The time will come, I know, when both of you, 
alike in pigment and design, will join me in the sky. Good- 
bye. My weary day on earth at last is done. I'm going home! 

( She floats skillfully out of the window, hut can he heard 
dimly of stage for a minute or two. She seems to he explain- 
ing something to God. ) 


st. clare: She's gone. She's in a better place now, Uncle 

uncle tom (to himself): Don' souri like bettah place to 
me. Not wid dat little Eva dah. (He has been facing the 
wall, head bowed. Now he turns around. There is an auto- 
matic in his hand. ) Git up yo' dukes, St. Clah! Long I dis- 
liked bofe you an' she. I woulda brought her down jus' now, 
a-tumblin' off dat ceilin' like a grouse, but dey was but one 
shot in dis here gun. I'se saved dat shot for you. Why plug 
de daid when you kin plug de quick? 

st. clare (with his hands partly raised) : Why, what's the 
matter, Tom? What secret sickness festers in your soul, what 
wrong that only lead can right? 

uncle tom: You don' know dat? Yo' think I'se fooled by 
al dem purty words dat don' quite rhyme, but run in neat 
and calculated rhythm, again' de colored man? Dis Little 
Eva like to change mah skin an' pull de racial kink from out 
mah hair. She gone to Heben talkin' mighty big, 'bout 
woolly pates an' pigments an' designs, but still Ah got you 
lef . Keep up dem hans, St. Clah! 

(St. Clare, however, has managed to drop his hand and 
get at his own gun. They both fire at once, and both fall to 
the ground, fatally wounded. ) 

st. clare: You've got me, Tom! This boil and tumult in 
my breast, this chill, this fading light, this deadly damp can 
mean one thing: I'm done. Why is it, Tom? Why is it I must 

tom: You was her paw. Ain't dat enough? 

st. clare (thoughtfully, after a long pause): Enough, and 
more, I think. 

uncle tom (raising himself on one elbow): Whut dat 
you say? 

st. clare: I say that you were right. To be the author of 

Eva's Deathbed Revisited 55 

that yellow hair, that tinkling voice, those blank geranium 
eyes is cause enough for any man to die. 

uncle tom: Whut dot you say? 

st. clare: I loathed her, too, the empty-headed brat. The 
half-chewed thought, the sanctimonious smile, the pat, in- 
ane abstraction — all that she thought was borrowed from 
bad books, all that she loved was Little Eva's voice. She was 
the queen of bores. I die content, now she belongs to God. 

uncle tom: I'se wronged you, Massa. 

st. clare: And I've wronged you, a sad and mortal wrong, 
but most she wronged us both. Dear Tom, give me your 

uncle tom: An' you take mine, an' hoi' it fast an' strong, 
until we come to that fair place where Little Eva ain't. 

( They die and go to Hell together, hand in hand and smil- 
ing. A red, lovely, and infernal light plays on the stage as the 
curtain falls. ) 

Shakespeare, Here's Your Hat 

(A New Play by Mr. William Saroyan, in Book Form, with the 
Customary Prefatory Notes by the Author) 

This play is a masterpiece. It is young, gusty, comical, 
tragic, beautiful, heroic, and as real as a slaughterhouse or 
some dame fixing her hair. It could only have been written 
in America, by an Armenian boy who is an artist and a lover 
and a dreamer. All at once. All mixed up. It could only have 
been written by Saroyan. 

Other people write plays, but they are no good. I go to 
them and I sit there and think, "My God, this is lousy! It was 
written by a man in an English suit of clothes who makes 
fifty thousand dollars a year, but it is not alive. It is dead. It 
stinks." A man making fifty thousand dollars a year doesn't 
write about Life; he writes about other people who make 
fifty thousand dollars a year; he writes about a bunch of rich 
corpses and, generally speaking, he is a rich corpse himself. 
Not me, though. Not Saroyan. This play is lyric and simple 
and alive. It says just exactly what it means. When the boy 
in this play dynamites his grandmother because he needs 
some money to get gin, that is something real. When he puts 
a nickel in the piano for music, that is real, too. When he 


Shakespeare, Here's Your Hat 57 

meets the society girl and says, "How's chances, sister?" and 
she answers, "O.K., Mac," that is a real, lovely, and heart- 
breaking thing. 

In the plays about the rich corpses, it takes three acts and 
about sixty thousand dollars' worth of scenery to get around 
to a beautiful and natural request like that, and half the 
time nothing comes of it, either. 


I am a warm, rich, and passionate human being and very 
few things are too much for me. Not even drama criticism. 
When a man writes in a newspaper or a magazine that he 
doesn't understand this play or is bored by it, that is all right 
with me. It is hard to imagine anybody not liking something 
that is as eloquent and native and true as a child running 
after a butterfly or a colored man scratching himself, but I 
do not get sore. I am just sorry for the crazy bastard. 


The following are excerpts from some of the reviews pub- 
lished in the New York press : 

Richard Watts, Jr., Herald Tribune: It is a darling play 
. . . but we must not ignore the Chinese. 

Brooks Atkinson, Times: Lit with the same ineluctable 
fire that once informed the witches and the cauldron on the 

John Mason Brown, Post: Challenges the best of Aris- 
tophanes, Gogol, Pirandello, Racine, and the Song of Solo- 

Burton Rascoe, World-Telegram: Either Saroyan is 
crazy . . . or I am. A child has done this horrid thing. 



This play was written in an hour and a half with a quill pen 
I generally keep in a little bowl of bird shot. For a man like 
me, an original, talented, profound, sensitive, and humorous 
Armenian, a typewriter is an artificial barrier standing be- 
tween the living brain and the clean paper. It is not for me, 
as the airbrush was not for Michelangelo and the adding 
machine was not for Euclid. 

At that time I was working in Hollywood, where all au- 
thors use typewriters. "The greatest play in the world is 
right there on those keys, if you can only figure out how to 
hit them in the right order," one of them said to me. He was 
a man who made forty, fifty, a hundred thousand dollars a 
year, and he went around with a falcon on his wrist. I would 
rather use the quill pen. Me, personally. 

Generally speaking, the American theatre is the aspirin of 
the middle classes. People go to a play because they want to 
get in out of the rain. Or because they have a date with 
some mouse in it later on. Or just because they happen to 
know the press agent and don't have to pay. It is not that 
way with me. I go because I love Life. That is an important 
statement and I want to repeat it: William Sawyan loves 

In the theatre today, except in this play of mine, what 
you see is not Life. It is a drawing-room compromise with 
Life arrived at by a man who has never had to sleep in a silo 
or eat birch bark or trap mice to make himself a hat or any 
of the other brave, haunting, and sometimes foolish things 

Shakespeare, Here's Your Hat 59 

people do when they don't happen to have been born on 
Park Avenue or in Newport, Rhode Island. 

The cure for the American theatre is more plays like this 
one. More plays by Saroyan. 


(A dormitory at Groton, just before vespers. Three of the 
boys — Jones Minor, Ferris Major, and Tilden Elliott III — 
are changing from their rugger togs into their vespers togs. 
They are breathless and wondering, enchanted with a sweet 
world that also holds things like ginger beer and scones and 
Esquire magazine. Ferguson Nicholson, the housemaster, a 
tall, thin man, noble because of the pain in his heart, is sit- 
ting in one corner, reading Variety and drinking a dry Mar- 
tini. In another corner an old graduate, mad and very dirty, 
is throwing cards into a hat. A scrubwoman comes in. A life- 
time of toil, including six years with the Shuberts, has not 
quenched her brimming and precious spirit. ) 

scrubwoman (compassionate, supernatural; the Earth 
Mother) : How about sweeping up around here, gents? Get 
some of the fug out of the joint. 

jones minor: Sweep. You won't sweep the torture and 
despair of Life from the heart with a broom. . . . 

ferris major: Or the beauty of it either. 

old graduate ( lost in his eternal dream of the past ) : Dis- 
solute and damned. Both the student body and the faculty. 

housemaster: Elliott. 

elliott: Yes, sir? 

housemaster: Go down to the Greek's and get me two 
ham sandwiches and a billiard ball. 

elliott (uneasily ) : What for? 

housemaster ( watching the scrubwoman; fascinated by 


the unique, all-female, and mysterious experiences once en- 
joyed somewhere in the world by this scrubwoman) : Ham 
on white. British mustard. 

elliott (still puzzled, but going out dutifully): A cue 

housemaster: No, the red one. (To the scrubwoman; 
waving the cocktail-shaker) Martini? 

scrubwoman: No thanks, pal. The Head don't like us to 
drink on duty. 

housemaster: You re missing a lot. Tm always drunk. The 
days and nights are whittling me away, and — (He breaks off 
as the Headmaster, a quiet, grave man, carrying a bridle, 
comes into the cubicle. ) Were you looking for something, 

headmaster (genially): Ah, Nicholson. Fried again, I see. 
( With a change of mood, sternly) Ferris Major! 

ferris major (springing up, dynamic, translated): Sir? 

headmaster: Is there a polo pony in this room? 

ferris major: A what, sir? 

headmaster (going to a closet, opening it, and discover- 
ing a polo pony ) : As I thought. You know the rules, I be- 
lieve, Ferris. No polo ponies or young women in dorm after 
four o'clock. 

ferris major (in a low voice, accepting his doom) : Yes, 

headmaster: This means a birching, of course. (He goes 
out, leading the polo pony; fatal, inexorable, the Scourge of 

old graduate (throwing the ace of spades at the hat): 
Dissolute and damned. Both the student body and the fac- 

housemaster (still preoccupied by the scrubwoman; the 
strange, illicit, by-gone adventures of the scrubwoman): I 
drink to your unconquerable spirit, Mrs. Le Bogan. 

Shakespeare, Here's Your Hat 61 

scrubwoman: My name ain't Mrs. Le Bogan. 

housemaster: Then Guinevere or Helo'ise. In any case, I 
drink. To your ancient sins, Faustine. 

scrubwoman: Listen, what the hell are you talking about? 

housemaster (wearily): I don't know. What do any of 
us talk about? Love. Happiness. Towering injustice every- 
where. The game with St. Paul's. (Furiously, draining the 
Martini) How the hell do I know? What do you talk about? 

scrubwoman (sly, roguish, Salome, old but not regener- 
ate): Jeez, I dunno, Mister. Harry K. Thaw. The time we 
burned up the city of Chicago. Shooting Garfield. All like 

housemaster: Life! The terror and the wonder and the 
beauty of it! (Gathering momentum) Life! Life! LIFE! 

(As he goes on, Elliott re-enters with the sandwiches and 
the billiard ball; the scrubwoman wrings out her mop and 
starts to wipe up the floor; the old graduate opens another 
pack of cards and begins throwing them at the hat; Jones 
Minor and Ferris Major gather up their hymnals and prayer 
books, the polo pony trots in backward through the door 
and re-enters the closet. Life has come full circle. ) 

old graduate (sombre, triumphant; his opinion of every- 
thing borne out) : Dissolute and damned. Both the student 
body and the faculty. 

(From the courtyard the bell for vespers sounds, very 
wonderful and sad. The curtain falls. ) 

To a Little Girl at Christmas 

(How a famous question might be answered if it were asked today 
and Mr. Westbrook Pegler happened to be writing editorials for the 

You're damn right there is a Santa Claus, Virginia. He 
lives down the road a piece from me, and my name for 
him is Comrade Jelly Belly, after a poem composed about 
him once by an admiring fellow-traveller now happily 
under the sod. 

In a manner of speaking, this Jelly Belly is in the dis- 
tributing end of the toy business, and I guess the story 
of how that came about has its points for the social his- 
torian. Mr. Claus is understandably a reticent man, but the 
facts would seem to be that he was born quite a while 
back in the Red Hook section under the appetizing mon- 
icker of Sammy Klein. His mother was employed in a 
celebrated bucket of blood known as the Haymarket, also 
in what you might call the distributing end, and his father 
was any one of a number of slick operators, though the 
weight of evidence would seem to point to Police Lieuten- 
ant Becker of fragrant memory. How his mother hap- 
pened to name him Sammy Klein is not known to this 
deponent, but there is a suspicion that she got it off the 
front of a clothing store she was in the habit of looting. 


To a Little Girl at Christmas 63 

It is not my way to speak ill of the dead, Virginia, but 
you'd have to go a long way to find a scurvier pair than 
the two who spawned the tot we're discussing. 

In his youth, Jelly Belly did a short stretch of military 
service with the Hudson Dusters and the Dead Rabbits, 
two pinko front organizations of the period, and then 
passed on to the less perilous profession of rolling lushes 
in the subway. According to surviving court records, an 
operative in this classification, variously known as Sid 
Kline, Saul ("Fingers") Klem, and K. Stein, was arrested 
no less than thirty-seven times between 1908 and 1916, 
and stored in the poky for periods ranging from ninety 
days up. This was presumably Santa Claus. 

So much, Virginia, for our hero's boyhood. In 1917, as 
you probably remember, a sick college professor in the 
White House ranted us into what he called a war to make 
the world safe for democracy, and Jelly Belly had one 
of the first numbers they pulled out of the bowl. This, 
however, was one rap he knew how to beat, and young 
Klein sat out World War I in a hospital for the criminally 
insane, having prudently assaulted a six-year-old girl on 
the very day his draft board invited him to call. He was 
pardoned in 1919 at the special request of the Assistant 
Secretary of the Navy, whose name happened to be Frank- 
lin Delano Roosevelt, and who even then displayed a 
strong affinity for the unbalanced. 

It was at this time that Jelly Belly changed his name 
to Santa Claus, partly to escape from his too vivacious 
past and partly because he had just become a full member 
of the Communist Party and needed an alias with a sanc- 
timonious flavor. His affiliation with the toy business began 
soon after that. When F.D.R. sprung Jelly Belly, or Santa 
Claus, from the loonybin, he went to work for the New 
York Times as a bushwhacker in the circulation depart- 


ment, his job being to mess up delivery boys from the 
rival Herald. This was naturally an employment highly to 
his taste, but when one boy died as the result of his atten- 
tions, it seemed sagacious to move on. It was in this man- 
ner that he came to F. A. O. Schwarz, where they made 
him first a shipping clerk and then the driver of a truck. 
The rest of the story — the prearranged hijackings that 
proved profitable enough to set Santa Claus up in the toy 
business for himself, the deals with Henry Agard Wallace, 
Felix Frankfurter, and his old friend Roosevelt that per- 
mitted him to pick the taxpayer's pocket to the tune of 
about eighty million dollars a year — is too complicated and 
dirty for a lady of your tender years. The important fact 
is that there is a Santa Claus, Virginia — a fat old party, 
with nasty habits and a dirty white beard, who, for rea- 
sons best known to himself, likes to go around either wholly 
undressed or else in an ill-fitting red suit. 

Today, Jelly Belly enjoys what is sometimes called the 
odor of sanctity, being generally regarded as a hell of a 
fellow by little children, soft-headed women, and the kind 
of deep thinkers who openly profess their opposition to the 
sterilization of all Communists. My own information is 
somewhat different. Jelly Belly gets around even more than 
Eleanor the Great, and I can't speak for his activities in 
other parts of the country. In my neighborhood, however, 
it is a matter of common knowledge that the burglary rate 
never fails to hit its peak at Christmas. No one has ever 
been caught for any of these misdemeanors, but the evi- 
dence in each case is always the same — a few shoddy toys 
in a stocking on the mantelpiece, and a mink coat or a 
pearl necklace missing from the hostess's effects. One vic- 
tim I know said she wouldn't mind so much if the toys 
were any good, but they are just the cheap, tasteless junk 

To a Little Girl at Christmas 65 

that crooked labor unions have been turning out ever since 
the Great Brain decided to sell out his country to the 
lazy and incompetent. 

I could go on for a long time telling you about Jelly 
Belly, Virginia. I could tell you, for instance, how the 
gross old slattern who passes herself off as his housekeeper 
would be described in less respectable pages than these by 
quite another word. Or I could tell you how he is a mem- 
ber of the Westchester Commuters Association, the Na- 
tional Association of Dahlia Growers, the Society for Im- 
proving the Condition of the Poor, and any number of 
other thinly disguised Communist organizations. Or I 
could even tell you with what drooling pleasure he beats 
his eight undersized reindeer, whose cruel whip sores I 
have seen with my own eyes. But these are probably not 
good things for a little girl to know. Youth is a time for 
innocent dreams and illusions, Virginia, and I don't believe 
I could live comfortably with myself if I destroyed yours. 
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. There is old Jelly 

On a Darkling Plain 

(Two ladies from very different magazines, conceivably The Satur- 
day Evening Post and The New Yorker, clash by noon) 

Madge Farraday stepped through the door of the restau- 
rant and into the foyer outside the dining room. The wind 
in the street had unfurled its banners in her cheeks, and 
a few flakes of snow still glistened in the Aung-back mane 
of hair, which it would have been very dangerous indeed 
to call red. There were little permanent crinkles of laughter 
around her blue eyes, and her generous mouth held its 
own mutinous hint of merriment — at the world, at life, at 
herself. She was dressed in a dark-blue jump-along that 
clung to her slender body in just the proper places; her 
small hat was an expensive absurdity; and her tiny shoes 
and the feet in them seemed made for dancing. Young, 
you felt, was the word for this girl. She was radiantly, 
triumphantly young — like a tree, a bird, the proud figure- 
head of a Viking ship. She was, as a matter of fact, twenty- 
three, and almost everything lay before her, including this 
lunch with Bob Contrapine, who was young, too, and had 
a funny twisted grin that might come to mean a lot — too 
much, perhaps, if you weren't careful. 

Lunch at Gorza's. She looked around appreciatively. 
There could hardly be a more satisfactory place for what 


On a Darkling Plain 67 

she felt they had to say to one another. The discreetly 
uniformed attendants, the sombrely luxurious furnishings, 
the proprietor who might well have been a grand duke in 
disguise, the waiting diners who so inevitably belonged 
in this atmosphere of security and sophistication. Her eye 
paused briefly on a beautiful woman sitting in a chair 
against the wall. 

Mrs. Flexner touched the bell on the table beside her. 
The proprietor came over, and she pointed to her glass. 

"You wanna more drink, Miz Flesner?" he said. 

"Yes. I wanna more drink," she said. "Get it." 

"O.K., O.K. But I dunno . . ." 

"Get it," she said. 

She was twenty-two. Her face was pale and discon- 
tented, and one shoulder was two or three inches higher 
than the other. When she danced, she crouched down a 
little to lower her skirt because her ankles were rather 
thick, and she held her partner tightly around the waist 
because there was always time for that. Her coat would 
have to do another year, unless this lunch worked out. 
She looked around the waiting room. A fine dump. Every 
tart in New York winds up in Gorza's, she thought. Look 
at that redheaded tramp that just came in. Look at me. 
A waiter went by and she could see his calves swelling 
against the worn cloth of his uniform. The man she was 
meeting had no calves, or much of anything else. Well, 
there would always be waiters, though, of course, the prob- 
lem of a tip . . . Mrs. Flexner remembered her teeth and 
did not smile. 

Madge Farraday stopped a little breathlessly beside 
the empty chair. "Excuse me," she said in her clear young 
voice, "but is this seat taken?" 


"Mmm," said Mrs. Flexner. 

"Then you won't mind if I sit down?" said Madge 
Farraday. Her eyes sparkled as she sank into the welcom- 
ing upholstery. She had the grace of a healthy young 
animal. "What a day!" she said, throwing back her hair. 
"Oh, that snow! I can still feel it against my face!" 

"Filthy," said Mrs. Flexner. "Do you see that wop any- 
whereF 7 

Madge glanced at the lovely face beside her with amuse- 
ment. "Wop?" she asked. 

Mrs. Flexner was spared the trouble of answering, be- 
cause the proprietor arrived at that moment with a glass 
on a tray. 

"Jus* thisa one, Miz Flesner," he said. "I tell you that, 
please. I don' wan' no trouble." 

"He don' wan' no trouble," Mrs. Flexner said to Madge 

Madge gave a little tinkle of laughter. She looked very 
young and appealing. After all, she didn't meet Bob 
Contrapine at Gorza's every day of her life. "I'd like a 
glass of sherry, please," she said. "Some nice, sweet sherry." 

"Christ," said Mrs. Flexner. 

The proprietor left, and Madge smiled at her companion. 
"I suppose you're waiting for somebody?" she said shyly. 

"Yes," said Mrs. Flexner. She felt a little better after 
the second Martini. This is quite a babe, she thought. I 
wonder what she knows about waiters. 

"So am I," said Madge Farraday. She was a little in- 
timidated by the other's cold perfection, but she went on 
resolutely, "My young man. Or at least I hope he's my 
young man." 

"Your husband?" said Mrs. Flexner. She thought briefly 
of her own husband. Dr. Brown says alcoholism is really 

On a Darkling Plain 69 

a disease. Leprosy is also a disease, but you don't necessar- 
ily pick them to go bumming around with. 

"Well, not yet," said Madge Farraday, blushing a little. 
"He's only a v.p. in charge of consumer desecration right 
now, but I guess they think pretty highly of him. I know 
I do. That nice, funny smile." 

"How are his calves?" said Mrs. Flexner. 


"Nothing," said Mrs. Flexner. "I was thinking about 
something else. Waiter!" 

It was the proprietor, however, who came over to their 

"Please, Miz Flesner," he said. "What I ask you, eh?" 

"I want a Martini," said Mrs. Flexner very distinctly. 
"Or do you want me to crumple up this joint?" 

"Please, Miz Flesner. I don' wan' to have to call — " 

"Try it," she said. "J ust tr y ^ * s au< ■"■ sa y* ^ double 
Martini. And you'd better bring this young lady some more 
of that Lavoris." 

"Sherry," said Madge Farraday, whose eyes were a little 
brighter from the unaccustomed wine. 

"Lavoris," said Mrs. Flexner. "All right, beat it." 

The proprietor withdrew, and for a moment the ladies 
sat in silence. At last Madge spoke. She looked like a little 
girl trying to seem grown up at her first party. 

"And yours," she said. "Tell me about yours." 

"What do you want to know?" said Mrs. Flexner. 

"What's he like? What does he do? What are your 
plans? Oh, I want to know everything!" 

"Well," said Mrs. Flexner. "Everything" was a fairly 
large order when it came to Dillon Flexner. The combina- 
tion of Yale and then that long fall from the windmill at 


Sconset accounted for a good deal, but it left some things 
to be explained. It still astonished her to remember her 
husband setting out those muskrat traps for the children. 
Seriously and intently fastening on the bait and pulling 
back the jaws. Disappointment with life took odd forms. 
As a matter of fact, if he hadn't been so dismayingly plain, 
she might have found his total irresponsibility rather at- 
tractive. Boyish. The beatings, of course, were nothing, 
and the girls . . . Well, as far as the girls were concerned, 
they must have been rather amused. God knows, she had 
been. At least, at first. No, when you came to Dillon, there 
wasn't much to say. "Everything" was actually just about 
the same as nothing. As for this other one — the one that 
was coming ... "I don't know," she said. "He's tall." 

"Oh, so is mine!" cried Madge Farraday. She re- 
membered that so well, and the kind eyes, and the big 
hands that looked clumsy but weren't really. She often 
wondered what went on in that head of his, under that 
funny, untidy hair. He never said much when they were 
together, but the way he looked at her said all she wanted 
to know. Oh, she could see him now. A shadow fell across 
the little table in front of her and she looked up, and there, 
amazingly, miraculously, he stood. Tall and somehow shin- 

"Bob!" she cried, and her heart was in her eyes. "You've 

come at last!" 

Mrs. Flexner looked up, too. 

"Hello, Robert," she said. "It's about time. I was just 
about to start calling the hospitals." 

Zulu, Watch the Snakes 

Spring came very late that year (though well and truly 
in the end ) , and beyond the fields and the men working in 
the fields you could see Laredo or Dallas, diminishing and 
dancing in the sun. I have put down that sentence for rea- 
sons of my own — to remind myself that I was once attentive 
to popular literary accents and prepared to rearrange them 
for purposes of my own. It has, however, almost nothing 
to do with anything that is to follow and I suggest you for- 
get it. 

Anyway, on the afternoon I want to write about, my 
eighteen-year-old sister Zulu and I were lying out behind 
one of the barns, watching the copperheads stirring back 
to life in the hot sun, and talking just a little out of our 
depth, as I suppose children always will. 

"You noticed anything in particular about the writing 
that's been going on this year?" she asked. 

"No," I said. "I don't read much." 

At the moment, Zulu is in her final year at Lawrence- 
ville. First, she was in Perry Ross House, where most of 
the Laredo girls go; then she spent two years at Woodhull; 
and now she's a director of Upper, which is pretty good 
if you're a Texas girl in a big Eastern school. She is editor 
of the Lawrence; president of Periwig; and last spring she 
got a minor "L" in Track. Anyone from Laredo can tell 



you that's pretty good, especially if you live out north on 
Townsend Street, which is about the same as living up on 
Riverside Drive in New York. Townsend Street girls usually 
wind up at either Peddie or Admiral Farragut, and then 
go on to Colgate or Rutgers. You can tell that about them 
just as surely as you can that their clothes will come from 
Peck & Peck and they'll be meeting people under the clock 
at the Biltmore. Zulus young men, of course, take her to 
the Colony, and she buys most of her clothes in Paris. 

"I've just been reading some kind of a novel called 
'Cash McCall,' by a boy called Cameron Hawley," she 

"You have?" There were a couple of big snakes warming 
up right beside my ankle, but they weren't ready yet. 

"It's a pretty complicated book," she said, "but the point 
seems to be that you can gyp the government out of a 
couple of million dollars and still get the girl. It all seems 
to be a matter of adjusting your tax base, or some damn 
thing. All I really got out of it was that if you've got any 
sense, an eight-dollar lunch only really costs you forty 

"Why bother your pretty head?" I said, watching the 

"Well, it is apparently some kind of a trend. This fawn- 
ing regard for big business. The interesting thing, or any- 
way the least uninteresting thing, about this book is the 
idea that practically everything can be charged off to capi- 
tal gains, including women. You understand any of this?" 

"No," I said. 

"Neither do I. There is also depreciation. Suppose you 
happen to have an apartment carved out of living 
rock . . ." 


"That's out of the book. I forget the details, but this 

Zulu, Watch the Snakes 73 

man has chopped himself out a very fancy little establish- 
ment in the side of a mountain, and he flies the girl there 
in his private plane." 

"Zulu," I said, "for God's sake, watch the snakes." 
"You watch them," she said. "The point is that this 
would appear to be a pleasure trip. Or at any rate hardly 
a business one, since this girl hasn't got more than two 
hundred thousand dollars to her name, and even that is 
tied up in an irrevocable trust." 

The reason Zulu was called Zulu was that, even as a 
baby, she was very dark and bushy and warlike. Once 
she got started, you had about as much chance of stop- 
ping her as a Mack truck. It used to amuse my father. 

"Well, anyway," she said, "this plane cost a quarter of 
a million dollars in the first place and God knows how 
much to keep up. Normally, it would seem like a rather 
expensive method of getting girls off to yourself. However, 
we live in strange times, and if you know the ropes, noth- 
ing really costs anything." 

It had cost us around ten thousand dollars to send Zulu 
to Lawrenceville for four years, not counting her clothes 
and allowance, and lately it had begun to seem to me that 
it might be a mistake. 

"This plane," she said, "used for what I think we can 
only describe as a facetious purpose, apparently came 
right off his income tax. Gasoline, wear and tear on the 
motors and presumably the upholstery, obsolescence of 
equipment — the works. All deductible. You see what I 

"You sure you've got this straight?" 

"It's near enough," she said. "What I object to is that 
everybody keeps going on about the amazing style of this 
man's operations. The girl is particularly impressed. First, 


the two-motored plane — a remodelled DC-6, I think — then 
the house in the cliff, then, as I remember it, a very elab- 
orate lunch with all the proper wines, and then, of course 
— well, Vamour. Magnificent. And all, as I think I've ex- 
plained, really working out to about five cents on the dol- 
lar. Disgusting, if you ask me." 

"Don't take it so hard," I said. "It's only a book." 

"I can't help it," she said. "I get sore. Who wouldn't? 
One way or another, most girls have to go out with quite 
a bunch of pinheads. It's a nuisance, but up to now there's 
always been the consolation for me that I was a pretty 
expensive proposition. I have put up with the little beasts, 
but I've always been able to think that I was putting 
quite a dent in them financially. It seemed to me I had a 
kind of moral or social function. When I got through with 
an eager young seducer, he was usually lucky if he had 
fifteen cents to get home in a bus. It was certainly quite 
a while before he was in shape to badger any more girls. 
I suppose I thought of myself as the great deterrent." 

"That's a very spiritual point of view, Zulu," I said. 
"Sometimes you surprise me." 

She ignored me and laughed bitterly. "The great deter- 
rent," she said. "That's what I thought. I thought, when 
I get through there is going to be a trail of bankrupts 
from Boston to Key West, and the Atlantic Seaboard 
will be a much cleaner, better place to live. I felt very 
proud and virtuous and happy. And then along came this 
damn book, and now what am I supposed to think?" 

"The snakes," I said. "Watch out for the snakes. They're 
really warming up." 

"I am beyond snakes. You see, don't you, that it's all 
lost, wasted, spoiled? What's left for me now? If a girl 
works out an evening carefully — taxis, dinner, theatre tick- 
ets, a night club afterward — she ought to be able to stick 

Zulu, Watch the Snakes 75 

a man for at least two hundred dollars. It used to enchant 
me. I was very innocent. I thought two hundred dollars 
was two hundred dollars. I know better now. With any 
kind of reasonable tax advice, it won't run to ten per cent 
of that. A lousy twenty bucks. Who is going to be deterred 
by that? I have never been so humiliated in my life. How 
do you suppose it feels to know that a bunch of bums and 
half-wits have been deducting you for entertainment and 
then laughing their disgusting heads off about it in every 
bar in town? I tell you quite frankly there have been times 
these last couple of weeks when I wished I were dead." 
"You will be," I said, "if one of those things bites you." 
"See if I care," said Zulu, but it was clear that her spirit 
was broken, and in a little while we got up and started 
walking home in the sun. 


Big Nemo 

A lady who loves him said once that Alexander Woollcott 
has eight hundred intimate friends. This may easily be 
true, because he leads a social existence that might have 
seemed exhausting to Catherine of Russia; it is also true 
that there is scarcely one of the eight hundred who has 
not spoken of him derisively. Edna Ferber, even before her 
first passion for him had cooled into loathing and he in 
turn had stopped dedicating his books to her, remarked that 
she was getting damn sick of this New Jersey Nero who 
mistook his pinafore for a toga. It was Miss Ferber, too, 
who, being asked by a frantic bookworm if Mr. Woollcott 
didn't seem exactly like a character out of Dickens, replied 
generously that he often seemed to her like two characters 
out of Dickens, both from the same book. This was "The 
Old Curiosity Shop," and the pair of whom Miss Ferber 
thought when she was reluctantly obliged to look at Mr. 
Woollcott were Little Nell and Quilp. Charles Brackett, a 
devoted admirer, described him in one of his novels as "a 
competent old horror with a style that combined clear 
treacle and pure black bile," while Harpo Marx spoke of 
his idol considered sheerly as an artist. "He is just a big 
dreamer," said Mr. Marx, "with a good sense of double- 



entry bookkeeping." Elsie Janis's mother, struggling to de- 
fine the effect that Mr. Woollcott has on people who aren't 
altogether used to him, said that in many ways he was like 
a fine old olive, and S. N. Behrman, who twice permitted 
him to play himself on the stage, caused one of his heroines 
to express herself crossly. "Oh, Sig, Sig," she cried, "if 
you'd been a woman, what a bitch you would have made!" 
Back in 1921, George Jean Nathan wrote a scurrilous article 
about him in the Smart Set entitled "The Seidlitz Powder 
of Times Square," and once, Howard Dietz, afflicted by 
prose more beautiful than he could bear, called him Louisa 
M. Woollcott, thus speaking for thousands who had also 
been troubled without ever quite knowing what was the 
matter with them. These tributes for the most part have 
come from the more articulate of the eight hundred. The 
rest have usually contented themselves with describing 
him simply and passionately as a monster, or at the very 
least as a man of absurdly mixed ancestry. 

The caricaturists have also been severe, which is proba- 
bly ungrateful of them, for Mr. Woollcott is a persistently 
obliging model, one wartime associate on the Stars and 
Stripes, the A.E.F. weekly newspaper, even hinting that he 
was by no means above using his sergeant's chevrons to 
compel gifted privates to draw pictures of him. His face, 
of course, could not have been more helpfully designed for 
their purposes. Florence Atwater, one of Booth Tarkington's 
darkly observant little girls, once came close to his total 
effect, although at the time she was speaking of her grand- 
father's cook. "Her face is sort of small," she said, wrestling 
with the inexpressible, "but the other parts of her head are 
terribly wide." Mr. Woollcott's small features occupy the 
front part of a head which is at least wider than most. He 
has a rather beaked nose and a tight mouth and a negli- 
gible mustache, all closely grouped. His eyes are made 

Big Nemo 81 

strange and fierce by thick glasses. A clever child could 
easily draw him and, as a matter of fact, many have, al- 
though usually under the impression that they were turn- 
ing out owls. The caricaturists, of course, have made the 
most of this resemblance, as well as of a body which sug- 
gests the anatomy of St. Nicholas in "The Night Before 
Christmas." A gallery of Woollcott portraits would include 
the work of almost every considerable black-and-white 
artist in the country and, while all the pictures would be 
very different, in some mysterious fashion they would all 
look precisely like Mr. Woollcott and all, naturally, rather 
like owls. 

The average man might be embarrassed at finding him- 
self the focus of quite so much hilarity and be inclined to 
swing on somebody. Mr. Woollcott, however, loves it, and 
often shakes with laughter when he comes on an especially 
damaging sample. The fact is that insult is a casual dem- 
onstration of regard with him, as it is with most of his 
friends. "Hello, repulsive" is a tender greeting under his 
roof and goodbye is said as sweetly. "I find you are begin- 
ning to disgust me, puss," the great man will say as his 
bedtime approaches. "How about getting the hell out of 

As far as his friends have been able to tell, in fact, the 
old fascinator is actually enraged only by two forms of 
misbehavior. He finds it very hard to forgive any man or 
woman who, through forgetfulness, drunkenness, or even 
simple disinclination, breaks an engagement with him, thus 
upsetting a social program as delicately assembled as a 
little watch; and he is furious with humorists who try to 
discredit his favorite philanthropies. 

As long ago as 1926, growing rich through his dubious 
employment as a critic for the late Frank Munsey, he 


moved from the hovel which he shared with three penniless 
adventurers on West Forty-seventh Street and went to live 
at the Hotel des Artistes. These premises offered many 
advantages, including a remarkable chef, and Mr. Wooll- 
cott began to spread out socially, his little dinners be- 
coming the talk of his circle, many of whom lived almost 
entirely on ham sandwiches in the back room at Tony's. 
Everything at des Artistes was arranged with extraordinary 
care — the chef advised long beforehand what to cook and 
the instant when it must leap, brown and lovely, from the 
dumbwaiter. The guests were selected as carefully as the 
roast and expected to turn up as promptly. Informal people 
sometimes found so much ceremony oppressive, and, while 
admiring Mr. Woollcott for his other qualities, considered 
him a little peremptory as a host. 

One man, born with a horror of having to be anywhere 
at any particular time, successfully dodged his fate for two 
weeks only to be pinned down at last for dinner a week 
from Tuesday. As his time drew near, despair overcame 
him and the afternoon of the great day found him in a 
speakeasy, nervously drinking Scotch. He was with friends 
and finally one of them, a Mr. Connelly, was persuaded to 
call up Mr. Woollcott and explain that his guest had been 

"Dishere Mr. Smiff's body servant," said Mr. Connelly 
upon being connected with his party. "He say he cam t — " 

The noise that came from the receiver was like the 
crackle of summer lightning, and after a while Mr. Con- 
nelly hung up and went back to his table. 

"Well, I fixed it up all right," he said airily. "You don't 
have to go." 

They went instead to the Algonquin and had been sitting 
in the lobby for some time, bothering nobody, when the 
door revolved to admit an object both fashionable and 

Big Nemo 83 

alarming. It was Mr. Woollcott in evening clothes. He was 
wearing a broad-brimmed black hat and a flowing cape, 
carrying a heavy, silver-headed cane, and on the whole he 
looked very much like Dracula. Afterward it developed 
that, having sent back the dinner (he was on a diet of toast 
and orange juice himself), he was now merely looking for 
someone to replace the unspeakable Smith as his guest at 
Walter Hampden's performance of "Caponsacchi." At the 
time, however, the guilty crew thought he had tracked 
them down and probably meant to do something nasty 
with the cane. His eye, in fact, did light on the little group 
and for a moment his face was contorted with pique, but 
instead of assassinating them, he whirled and flung out of 
the hotel, spinning the door so furiously that two little old 
ladies, standing near it, bowed in the wind. 

The humorists were not content to let it go at that. Smith, 
encouraged by his associate demons, sent him a telegram 
which read, "If anybody asks you where I was last night 
will you say I was with you?" At first, on receiving this, 
Mr. Woollcott was somewhat mollified, having a pleasant 
sense of being mixed up in some kind of dirty work. Learn- 
ing that it was merely an extension of the original insult, 
however, and that Smith had, in fact, been seen that night 
innocently amusing himself with friends at Hubert's Flea 
Circus, he came close to apoplexy and wrote a letter so 
vitriolic and unusual that it became a sort of museum 
piece and was ultimately acquired by a rich collector for 
twenty-five dollars. It is noteworthy that in moments of 
actual fury Mr. Woollcott has no use for the fancy epithet; 
his style then is simple and austere, almost Biblical. This 
valuable letter said what he wished to say in the bleakest 
terms. "I find," it began, "that you are a distinctly third- 
rate person." 

In spite of many discouragements — for other people have 


also objected to having their lives so arbitrarily arranged 
— his schedule remains elaborate. His itinerary is always 
laid out at least a month in advance, and his calendar, 
when he is in New York, is as precisely calculated as a 

Mr. Woollcott's enthusiasms are often apt to seem a little 
arbitrary, too. Critically, for instance, he was able to dis- 
miss "The Children's Hour" as "gauche, implausible, and 
untidy," and "Strange Interlude" as an " 'Abie's Irish Rose' 
of the pseudo-intelligentsia," while finding in Mr. James 
Hilton a talent "as warming to the heart and nourishing to 
the spirit as any I can remember" and in Little Orvie, cer- 
tainly one of Mr. Tarkington's glummer inspirations, a 
creation in many ways superior to Penrod. The truth is 
probably that he prefers to dig up his own crusades, finding 
no especial satisfaction in getting excited about something 
that excites everybody else. So, while most commentators 
have been busy with anti-Fascist demonstrations, labor 
disputes, and other community activities, Mr. Woollcott 
has found his own causes and stood up for them, vocal but 
alone. The Seeing Eye, which, thanks to him, probably 
needs no further identification, has received in print and 
on the air more publicity than has ever been given to any 
other organization dedicated to so special a purpose, and 
Hamilton College, which graduated him and of which he is 
a trustee, has also come into its just reward. He has not 
even neglected the Several Marx Brothers, an outfit which, 
from time to time, he appears to believe he invented him- 
self. Journalistically, all this has been sound and profitable, 
since there are many people who feel that they have 
heard more than enough about the state of the world. It 
has also called forth a certain amount of criticism, a few 
serious thinkers being of the opinion that Mr. Woollcott's 

Big Nemo 85 

interests are rather peripheral, to put it mildly. There 
have even been moments of embarrassment when his pro- 
teges have backfired on him. 

There was, for instance, the story of Sergeant Quirt, 
which is probably as good a name for him as any. The 
saga of the Sergeant, who picked up his title as a member 
of the American Expeditionary Force, is practically endless. 
A literary though virile sort of man, he once worked for a 
newspaper syndicate, and there he was in the habit of re- 
turning a manuscript to its anxious author with a letter 
saying that it wasn't quite right, but that with a little pro- 
fessional advice, he was sure, it could be made to do. There 
was, now he happened to think of it, a literary agency that 
specialized in just that sort of thing and, if the author cared 
to send his manuscript to them, he felt confident that — for 
a small fee, of course — they could tell him what repairs 
were necessary. The literary agency, it turned out, was the 
Sergeant masquerading as a post-office box, and he made 
a very nice little thing out of it until something slipped up 
and he was fired. After that he caused a temporary con- 
fusion in the publishing world by setting up a McClure 
Syndicate to compete with the real McClure Syndicate 
simply by going into business with a man whose name 
happened to be McClure. A pretty ingenious fellow all 
around was Sergeant Quirt. 

Mr. Woollcott and the Sergeant had worked together on 
the Stars and Stripes, where they shared heroic experiences 
and a strong bond grew up between them. Back in this 
country, the friendship persisted and Mr. Woollcott invited 
his buddy to come and live in his apartment. The Sergeant 
had not yet affiliated himself with the newspaper syndicate, 
or indeed with any other employer, and he was without 
visible means of support. Mr. Woollcott's kindness provided 
him with a roof and meals, of course, but the Sergeant 


wanted other things from life, including a little pocket 
money. His host had gone to Europe, leaving him alone 
in the apartment, so he turned to other friends of his army- 
days. He was successful with them, so successful, in fact, 
that he made up his mind that he could afford to travel. 
Action always followed closely on decision with the Ser- 
geant, and presently, handsomely dressed and equipped 
with fine luggage, he was on his way to the Coast in a bus. 
He rode in peace, busy, no doubt, with his innocent 
plans, until the bus reached a more or less desolate 
portion of the Western plains. Here an embarrassing thing 
happened. A pair of state troopers, appearing from no- 
where, drew up beside the bus and announced grimly that 
they were looking for an escaped convict. Even as they 
spoke, a pale man in one of the front seats leaped to his 
feet and through an open window. Before the troopers 
could get clear of their roadster, Sergeant Quirt was in 
action. He, too, leaped through the window and took off 
across the desert. The convict ran fast, but virtue lent 
wings to Quirt and he brought the man down not a 
hundred yards from the highway. When Quirt came back 
with his catch, the troopers were grateful and admiring. 

"It was nothing," said the Sergeant. 

The officers soon departed, taking with them the convict 
and a suitcase he claimed to be his. The bus rolled on, with 
Quirt the object of much favorable comment. It had not 
gone many miles, however, before the same patrol car ap- 
peared beside it again and ordered the driver to stop. One 
of the troopers got out and stood in the highway. He was 
holding up a suitcase and he looked even more menacing 
than before. 

"All right/' he said, "now I want to know who in hell 
belongs to this bag/' 

Big Nemo 87 

Sergeant Quirt took one look at it and sighed. 

"I do," he said. 

"You?" said the trooper incredulously, recognizing the 
recent hero. 

"Yes," said Quirt. 

"O.K., buddy," said the trooper, though still doubtful. 
"Then I guess you better come along." 

Quirt went, for he knew when he was licked, and he 
also knew that the suitcase, which fate had malignantly 
mixed up with the convict's, contained about as fine a set 
of plates for counterfeiting traveller's checks as you could 
buy east of the Alleghenies, as well as a neat bundle of 
Southern Pacific pay checks which he had turned out from 
time to time on a little press he happened to have kicking 
around the house. 

When this news finally reached Mr. Woollcott, he was 
embarrassed. It was too bad, he cried; it was obviously just 
some innocent misunderstanding. In proof of all this, he 
would personally redeem every dollar's worth of false 
checks that could be shown to have originated with his 
virtuous friend. He even had his lawyer make an announce- 
ment to that effect, and this was a mistake, because several 
thousand dollars' worth of pay checks which had been 
issued by the Sergeant on previous business trips to the 
West were now joyfully presented for payment. Such a sum 
being somewhat beyond his means at the time, Mr. Wooll- 
cott was obliged to retract his offer and leave the Sergeant 
to the mercy of the State of California, which apparently 
had the strongest claim on him, although Oregon and 
Nevada were mildly interested, too. Mr. Woollcott, in 
fact, withdrew from the whole matter after arranging with 
the warden of San Quentin to get the Sergeant a set of 
false teeth, his own being in shocking condition. 


Things like that hurt, because there can be little question 
that Mr. Woollcott is one of the most sentimental men 
alive in spite of his prickly exterior. At fifty-two, the world 
to him is still a strange and glamorous place, with all its 
values heightened and transposed as the appearance of a 
landscape is dramatized when it comes out in Technicolor. 
Mr. Woollcott's world isn't perhaps very much like any- 
body else's, but certainly he is happy there. It is a little re- 
markable that he should be so invincibly romantic and 
especially that he should feel such an overwhelming affec- 
tion for the past, because his impressionable years were 
spent in what would appear to be more or less dis- 
couraging places. 

He was born in what had once been the phalanstere or 
head house of a Socialistic community near Red Bank, N.J. 
This settlement, commonly known as Phalanx, was an ex- 
periment in cooperative living, based on the writings of 
Albert Brisbane, Arthur's father. It was akin to Brook Farm 
and, though less celebrated, it was more successful. In 
1855, however, it blew up — largely because none of the 
disciples cared to act as garbage collector — and Woollcott's 
grandfather, who happened to be president at the time, 
came into possession of the enormous eighty-five-room 
building which his descendant remembers as a "shabby, 
rambling caravansary, bleak as a skull." In 1887, when 
little Alexander was born, there were fourteen other grand- 
children infesting this barracks and the chances are that 
he would have grown up quite happily there if it hadn't 
been for some aching discontent with life that lay at the 
back of his father's mind. Walter Woollcott, who came to 
America from England when he was thirteen, was at vari- 
ous times and rather apathetically a lawyer, an accountant, 
a government clerk, and a Stock Exchange member. He 
also seems to have been one of the most accomplished 

Big Nemo 89 

escapists in history. Once, in Germantown, he went to bed 
and stayed there two years although there was nothing in 
particular the matter with him; most of the time he had 
to be on the move, hoping that in each new town he would 
find the power and glory that had just eluded him in the 
last. In the course of his marriage, accompanied by his 
docile though bewildered family, he turned up as a resident 
of such assorted places as Raleigh, Washington, Omaha, 
Fort Union, Pittsburgh, and Manchester (England). 

In November, 1889, he took his brood to Kansas City, 
Mo. A lady who taught little Aleck when he was in the 
Second Grade there reports on him favorably: 

As a very young boy, Aleck was very frail-looking, with delicate 
features, blond hair, and the finest, keenest, intellectual face I have 
ever seen on such a young lad. His vocabulary, then as now, was mar- 
vellous. He was a constant reader — in fact, he read everything he 
could find in the family library, supplemented by first-class reading 
matter, such as St. Nicholas, the Youth's Companion, etc. Small and 
slender as he was, he held his own with the larger boys. I can see him 
now, walking with his chest out and trying to look strong and manly. 
He thirsted for knowledge and I realized even then that he would go 

A surviving photograph, taken at this period, bears her 
out. It shows a frail, intent infant who, although as cute as 
a bug's ear, in the beautiful old phrase, exhibits neverthe- 
less strong traces of that devouring curiosity which has 
brought the mature Woollcott far indeed from Kansas City. 

The child played one of the Vinard children in a "Trilby" 
tableau given at the Coates Opera House, and Puck in 
the days when Mrs. Roswell Martin Field, a sister-in-law of 
Eugene Field, used to "do" Shakespeare in the Woollcott 
doorway while the audience looked on from the street. He 


sent his first composition, "The Adventures of a Shopping 
Bag," to the Kansas City Star, which rejected it impas- 
sively; he got his first complimentary seats to the theatre 
from Roswell Field. He was notable chiefly in the neighbor- 
hood, however, because when hurt, strong and manly 
though he might be, he would set up such an unbearably 
doleful cry that adults could be relied upon to pacify him 
with nickels. It got to be a practice among the larger boys 
to toss the little intellectual off the veranda onto his head 
and then, when he had wept and subsequently collected 
his nickel, to take it away from him. 

In 1895, Walter Woollcott found that the Holy Grail 
was not in Kansas City and he moved his wife and five 
children (there were three other sons and a daughter, all 
older than the constant reader) back to Phalanx. They 
stayed there about a year and Aleck went to school. Then, 
for the mysterious search was never ended, they went to 
Philadelphia, where he finished his primary education and 
entered Central High School in the class of 1905. Wooll- 
cott was living by himself now, his father having wan- 
dered away again, this time alone, breaking up the family 
group forever. Aleck supported himself by reviewing books 
and doing similar odd and menial jobs for the Evening 
Telegraph and the Record. He won a gold medal for 
writing an essay and sold it, cash in his little damp hand 
being at the moment even more important than glory. Be- 
yond the discovery, however, that he could turn a phrase 
with the next man, he didn't get much out of Central High 
School. He had met a nephew of Elihu Root's who had 
been to Hamilton College, at Clinton, N.Y., and, impressed 
by this man's worldly manner, young Woollcott decided to 
go there too. 

Hamilton is a small college and in its student body of 
two hundred Alexander Humphreys Woollcott '09 was 

Big Nemo 91 

pretty conspicuous, having a busy little finger in practically 
everything except athletics, which he loathed. He was edi- 
tor of the monthly magazine; he founded and directed 
the dramatic club and acted female parts in its productions; 
he did monologues with the glee club; he even drank a 
little from time to time, preferring absinthe because of its 
sinister reputation. He was rather bizarre in appearance, 
for he habitually wore corduroy trousers and a turtle- 
necked sweater and topped them off with a jubilant red 
fez, and he was already firmly prankish, fellow-members 
of Theta Delta Chi recalling that in "rushing season" he 
was accustomed to get himself up even more repulsively 
than usual and go and sit on the steps of rival fraternities 
as a horrible example of what the prospective brothers 
might expect to find inside. Above everything else, how- 
ever, he was a scholar (he made Phi Beta Kappa in his 
junior year ) and his chief concern was writing. 

Of what he wrote, only one curious fragment has sur- 
vived. It is called "The Precipice: A Story of Bohemia" 
and the action takes place at a New Year's Eve party in the 
Philadelphia equivalent of a Greenwich Village studio. 
Nana, the heroine, it seems, is not exactly beautiful, but 
she has other charms which Woollcott '09 is too delicate 
to specify. She is a virtuous girl, though given to swilling 
Benedictine, but unfortunately she is infatuated with one 
Bonny, a cad who operates from hansom cabs. 

In the course of the party, this louse, a married man, 
arranges to come back and meet her after the others have 
all gone. 

"Well see the old year out together," he says, brimming 
with lechery. 

"That will be joyous," says Nana, who has already been 
at the Benedictine. 

He leaves, and Nana, alone at last, really goes to work on 


the bottle. She is, in fact, flat on her back, lighting matches 
and muttering away to herself about "playing with fire" 
when a messenger comes in with a package and an ex- 
planatory letter for her. The letter is from a man called 
Morton K. Enderby and Nana is in no shape to cope 
with that, but the package contains her mother's picture 
and its effect is very gratifying indeed. 

"The great grey eyes looked at her reproachfully, ac- 
cusingly, and the girl cowered. She turned quickly and 
lier glance fell on the tabouret with its litter of cigarette 
ashes, and in the mess her glass with the dregs of the 
Benedictine staining its sides. The sight sickened her. There 
was a tremendous revulsion of feeling in her soul; a shatter- 
ing of the illusions of the past few weeks. The fair lights of 
Bohemia were calcium; the gayeties tinsel; the beauties 

Nana was sober as an owl when she heard Bonny's foot- 
steps on the stairs. He was singing a questionable song and 
it was clear that he thought everything was in the bag. He 
was too optimistic. 

"For a moment she saw his figure outlined against the 
light: then . . . she was flying down the dark stairway, 
one hand nervously feeling the banister as she ran, the 
other pressing the picture to her bosom. The little slippered 
feet sped along the streaming pavements, the crimson 
figure passed swiftly out of the great swinging circle of the 
creaking arc light and she was swallowed up in the dark- 

" 'Just in time, mother,' she whispered. 'J us t in time.' " 

This excruciating piece of prose was actually bought by 
a magazine called The Black Cat, which paid twelve dollars 
for it, and it also won a twenty-five-dollar prize for the best 
piece of undergraduate writing of that year. 

Big Nemo 93 

When the day came for Woollcott to leave Hamilton, he 
went sadly, for he had loved it. Furthermore, he had a 
nervous distaste for the world beyond the campus and for 
a while he dreamed of a cloistered life as principal of a high 
school. He even went to Hudson, N.Y., where he had heard 
a vacancy existed, but when he found that he would be ex- 
pected to preserve discipline by violence if necessary and 
was shown a group of students any one of whom could 
have dissected him singlehanded, he abandoned the project 
as impracticable. He came instead to New York and went 
to work as a fifteen-dollar-a-week clerk in the Chemical 
National Bank, adding and subtracting, dreaming of the 
horrible day when he would be promoted to teller. Samuel 
Hopkins Adams, a trustee of Hamilton and, in fact, the 
man who had put up the prize won by "The Precipice," res- 
cued him from finance by informing Carr Van Anda of the 
Times that a Wunderkind had come to town, a journalistic 
prodigy who would eclipse even the great Frank Ward 
O'Malley. This, it turned out, wasn't strictly true. There 
could be no question that the Times new man could write 
very nicely, though in a strangely lacy and intricate fash- 
ion, but as a reporter he was exasperating. He wasn't ex- 
actly hostile to facts, but he was apathetic about them, and 
he liked a story to be neatly assembled in one place — a 
good cornerstone-laying, for instance — and not spread out 
untidily all over hell so that a man had to run himself 
ragged trying to get it together. 

He was assigned to the sinking of the Titanic, the Equita- 
ble fire, the Rosenthal case, and even what might be called 
the aesthete's angle of one World Series, but his heart 
wasn't in it. Neither, apparently, was the Times', for in 
1914, after Woollcott had expressed his discontent by hav- 
ing a nervous breakdown, Van Anda made him dramatic 


critic. The reasons for this appointment are obscure. De- 
tractors say it was a choice of getting young Woollcott off 
news or turning the paper into a weekly (the Times was 
beaten daily on the Rosenthal story before Mr. Woollcott 
retired in favor of a more curious and mobile man); ad- 
mirers, on the other hand, claim that the management 
considered it wasteful to confine the most ornamental prose 
in New York to routine journalism. The subject of the whole 
controversy says modestly that he thinks it was only be- 
cause Mr. Van Anda imagined that his employee looked 
like Thackeray. 

It wasn't much of a job anyway. The Times was inclined 
to be haughty about the drama and considered reviews of 
it just barely fit to print. The column occupied a modest 
position and its author was paid sixty dollars a week. 
Nevertheless, Mr. Woollcott felt that at last he had come 
into his own, and when he was barred from all the Shubert 
theatres for wickedly denouncing almost everything he saw 
in them, it gave him an almost intolerable sense of power. 

When he was first chosen, he wrote his mother and told 
her the magnificent news, but she wasn't especially im- 

"I should think it would be very narrowing," she wrote 


Alexander Woollcott, erstwhile dramatic critic for the Times, 
now risen to the estate of private in the United States 
Medical Corps, embarked for France on July 11, 1917, but 
his transport was rammed and sunk by the liner Panama 
halfway down New York Harbor. Mr. Woollcott, who didn't 
even get his feet wet, was extricated and put back on shore. 

Big Nemo 95 

A week after this anticlimax he sailed again, and this time, 
in spite of a skirmish with two U-boats off Belle Isle, he 
reached St.-Nazaire. From there he was sent to Base Hospi- 
tal No. 8, in the village of Savenay in the Loire-Inferieure. 
For six rather exasperating months he lingered in Savenay, 
performing duties which would unquestionably have 
amused a great many actors back in New York if they 
could have seen him. 

While he was engaged in this embarrassing fashion, the 
Stars and Stripes, the weekly newspaper of the A.E.F., had 
been started in a crowded little office on the Rue Ste.-Anne 
in Paris. In those early days it was badly understaffed — the 
first few issues, in fact, were almost entirely written by one 
man — and soon the editor began to look around for Ameri- 
can journalists in other branches of the service. When he 
telegraphed Savenay to ask if there was any reasonable ob- 
jection to transforming one Alexander Woollcott from an 
orderly into a reporter, the colonel in charge of the hospi- 
tal was on duty elsewhere and the message was given to 
his adjutant to deal with in his absence. This agreeable man 
called Woollcott — he was Sergeant Woollcott by now — 
into his office and allowed him to cook up his own answer. 

"Sergeant Alexander Woollcott has done magnificent 
work here," wrote Sergeant Woollcott after a moment's 
thought, "but can be spared." 

Woollcott the reporter for the Stars and Stripes wasn't 
really very different from Woollcott the dramatic critic for 
the Times. The war appeared to him in the light of an 
enormous and essentially rather good-natured melodrama, 
and he wrote about the men in the trenches with the same 
romantic intensity that he had once reserved for Mrs. Fiske. 
The atmosphere in the office on the Rue Ste.-Anne, and 
later in the one on the Rue des Italiens, was also not unlike 
that he had known in New York. His colleagues were rude 


men who preferred on the whole witnessing the confusion 
of one of their superior officers to any catastrophe that 
might overtake the Germans. Most of them were what 
might be called old-fashioned newspapermen, with a child- 
ish contempt for high-class prose, and when the former 
dramatic critic for the New York Times proudly reported 
for duty, their behavior must have been a little irritating. 
One of them, in fact, a barbarian who had worked on al- 
most every paper in the United States, laughed so insanely 
that he had to be helped out of the room. 

To some extent they got used to Sergeant Woollcott after 
a while and even came to respect him for the way he was 
able to adjust himself to a life that was wildly foreign to 
his nature, but he never stopped entertaining them. Wooll- 
cott was probably the most heavily burdened war corres- 
pondent in history, being festooned on his tours of the 
front with a collection of binoculars, cameras, gas masks, 
canteens, and other spare parts that would have weighed 
down Richard Harding Davis. In spite of all this fancy 
equipment, he always looked dismally non-military. Once 
he was dining in Paris with another member of the staff 
who had done no more than button up his blouse in honor 
of the occasion. A young lady who was with them studied 
Mr. Woollcott anxiously for a long time but clearly could 
identify him with nothing in her previous military experi- 
ence. At last she gave him up and turned to her other 

"But you," she said timidly, "you re in the Army, aren't 

On another occasion he was with Elsie Janis and her 
mother when the news came that the draft age had been 
extended to take in men of forty-five. 

"Goodness, Aleck," said both ladies as one woman, "that 
means you'll have to go, doesn't it?" 

Big Nemo 97 

Altogether his appearance was so exotic that A. A. 
Wallgren, who drew a comic strip for the Stars and Stripes 
and usually employed his colleagues as models, liked to 
show Sergeant Woollcott carrying a single lovely rose. 
General Pershing, in fact, was probably the only man in 
the A.E.F. who ever mistook Mr. Woollcott for a soldier. 
This was long after the Armistice, on a day when several 
members of the editorial staff had just got their discharges 
and the only occasion on which Pershing ever visited the 
office. Sergeant Woollcott, still in uniform, was presented 
to the Commander in Chief together with the information 
that he had that day, after twenty-two months of service, 
at last become a civilian. 

"Well, well," said the General, amid a stunned silence, 
"he doesn't look much like a civilian to me." 

The old sergeant still likes to quote this inexplicable 
compliment along with another he received from the New 
Orleans Times-Ticayune. In a review of one of Mr. Wooll- 
cott's books, this paper published an unusually hideous 
photograph of the artist. The caption under it, however, 
was what would have confounded every man who ever 
worked on the Stars and Stripes. "Soldier-Author," it said. 

Even though the A.E.F.'s correspondent didn't look es- 
pecially warlike, he saw a lot of the battlefield. He had a 
sort of roving commission from the paper and spent most 
of his time up close to the front lines, sending his dis- 
patches back to Paris by courier. It is the general impres- 
sion that Mr. Woollcott was imperturbable under fire, al- 
though one cynical man who knew him at the time has 
his own explanation. 

"I thought he was a hero myself," says this small spirit, 
"until I found out he had something the matter with his 
eyes. Hell, he could get right up on top of a town without 
even knowing it was under fire." 


Myopic or not, Woollcott occasionally found himself 
within range of the cannon, and witnesses say that it was a 
moving and pitiful sight to see him trying to get down on 
his stomach when he heard the scream of an approaching 
shell. Other men dropped where they were, but Mr. Wooll- 
cott weighed close to two hundred pounds exclusive of 
hardware and his descent was gradual and majestic, like a 
slowly kneeling camel. Even when he had got safely down, 
he was still far from flat, and it is one of the miracles of 
the war that he came through it unperforated. Unwieldy as 
he was, however, he was a conscientious reporter. There 
were even those who felt he was too conscientious, their 
number including one cross-grained sergeant who was 
bringing his platoon back from a tour of duty in the front- 
line trenches when he was accosted by Mr. Woollcott in 
his best New York Times manner. 

"Sergeant,'' he said crisply, "I'm from the Stars and 
Stripes, and I'd like you to tell me exactly — " 

"You go to hell, Willie," said the sergeant. 

The Stars and Stripes, which had built up a weekly 
circulation of 550,000 and returned to the government a 
net profit of $700,000 in a little less than a year and a half, 
went out of existence on June 13, 1919. Things had been 
pretty dull in the seven months following the Armistice, 
and Mr. Woollcott was glad to get back to his job on the 

In retrospect it is not very easy to evaluate him as a 
dramatic critic. He had enthusiasm, an honest love for 
the theatre, and a gift for the neat and deadly phrase. On 
the other hand, he was sentimental, partisan, and mad- 
deningly positive about everything even before he had been 
a critic long enough to know much about anything. His 
style, which could be lucid and witty, could also be mud- 

Big Nemo 99 

died and frantic, and reading him in this mood often made 
subscribers feel as if his hot breath was actually on their 
necks. The short space of writing time allowed by a morn- 
ing paper, of course, had a lot to do with that, for the 
Woollcott style, pouring too richly from his heart, needed 
a great deal of skimming and straining before it was fit for 
public consumption. He was aware of this himself and 
once, when an admiring lady asked him how he ever wrote 
so much in such a short time — most of his reviews were 
turned out in less than an hour — he answered her reasona- 

"If I had twice as much time, my blossom," he said, "my 
pieces would probably be half as long/' 

The case against him was not too temperately stated by 
George Jean Nathan, then writing about the theatre for 
Smart Set. Mr. Nathan's performance had a fascination of 
its own, because in calling his rival unbearably dogmatic 
he exhibited the same quality in an even stronger degree, 
and in commenting on a style that seemed to him lush and 
juvenile he employed one that was tangled, multilingual, 
and indecently burdened with learned reference. It was 
not unlike Lady Godiva reproaching September Morn for 
not having enough clothes on, but it was not without some 
justice, either. 

Mr. Nathan began by questioning some of the Woollcott 
judgments, which seemed to him rather in the nature of 
valentines. It struck him, for instance, as a little excitable 
to write the following about a fetching but by no means 
extraordinary young actress: "This most beguiling role 
... is played to incredible perfection by Lotus Robb, the 
April charm of whose delicate performance seemed ... a 
thing which only lyric verse could adequately describe." 
Mr. Nathan was also pained to hear Jacob Ben-Ami, a stroll- 
ing player of the period, described as a matchless world 


genius and his performance as so supernatural in every 
way that "some of us would crawl on our hands and knees 
to see it." So much indeed did this bonbon upset the little 
pundit that without half trying he reeled off the names of 
Arbatoff, Teliakovsky, Dalmatoff, Glagolin, Massalitinoff, 
Adelheim, Katchaloff, Moskvin, and Uraloff as a few of 
those who might be employed to teach this Ben-Ami the 
rudiments of acting. Alice Delysia, for whom Mr. Woollcott 
also entertained a respectful yen, provoked a similar out- 
burst from Mr. Nathan, who this time listed no less than 
fifteen little-known French music-hall comediennes who 
were in every way her superior. 

While Mencken's partner disapproved of much that 
Woollcott said, it was the way he said it that really made 
his head hurt. 

"This style," he wrote sombrely, "is the particular bou- 
quet I invite you to sniff. ... It never strikes a mean; it 
is either a gravy bomb, a bursting gladiolus, a palpitating 
missa cantata, an attack of psychic hydrophobia, or a 
Roman denunciation, unequivocal, oracular, flat and final. 
... A style, in brief, that is purely emotional, and without 
a trace of the cool reflectiveness and contagious common 
sense suitable to criticism." 

It is sometimes felt in the theatrical world, however, that 
nothing can possibly be half as bad as George Jean Nathan 
says it is, and certainly Mr. Woollcott had many passionate 
admirers. They conceded his faults — even his best friends 
were apt to murmur "Ben- Ami" in a thoughtful way when- 
ever he turned up with a new world genius — but insisted 
that in spite of them his pieces had a life that was missing 
from those of his more austere competitors. There was an 
excitement, a quality of shared experience, of having been 
there and seen it yourself, which you couldn't get from 
anyone else. 

Big Nemo 101 

There must have been something in what they said, be- 
cause in 1922 the late Frank Munsey offered him the critic's 
job on his Herald. Like almost every newspaperman in 
New York, Mr. Woollcott loathed Munsey, but the Times, 
which had started him at $60 a week and now paid him 
$100, indicated clearly that it considered this figure more 
than ample for a man who had nothing more exhausting to 
do than inspect actors. Munsey offered him $15,000 a year, 
and in October, 1922, Mr. Woollcott went to work down 
the river. He stayed with Munsey nearly three years — on the 
Herald until it was sold to the Tribune, and then on the 
Sun. It was an unrewarding experience, for the Herald and 
the Sun were spiritless affairs, run by a clammy, ruthless 
man whose heart was really in the delicatessen business. 

In 1925, Heywood Broun, succumbing to a combination 
of claustrophobia and a desire to rearrange the solar system, 
resigned as dramatic critic of the World, and Woollcott 
was chosen to succeed him. The pay was the same as it 
had been on the Sun, but the surroundings were vastly 
different. Financially the World was already sickening for 
its last illness, but editorially it was the most provocative 
paper in New York. The celebrated "opposite-editorial 
page," which was worshipfully read at almost every up- 
and-coming breakfast table, was a sort of five-ring circus. 
F.P.A. was doing the Conning Tower; Broun, though no 
longer a critic, was still writing It Seems to Me, Laurence 
Stallings and Samuel Chotzinoff dealt with books and 
music, respectively, and now Woollcott had come to do the 
theatre. On the day that the new dramatic critic went to 
work, it undoubtedly seemed to him that he could remain 
in the Pulitzer Building happily forever. 

Ever since he came back from the war, Mr. Woollcott's 
social life had been expanding in a very satisfactory way. 


Before that, to most people he had just been a man who 
wrote dramatic criticism for the Times and signed to it a 
name that always looked like a typographical error. Now 
he began to emerge as a metropolitan character and a 
member of the group which firmly took charge of humor 
in America throughout the nineteen-twenties and early 

They were a remarkable gang, however you look at them, 
and they have left us many legends, of which the most 
durable are the Round Table at the Algonquin Hotel, the 
Thanatopsis Literary and Inside Straight Club, the back 
room at the West Side Tony's, and, conceivably, Herbert 
Bayard Swope. Franklin P. Adams was their official biog- 
rapher, and it was a rare Saturday when his Pepys' Diary 
failed to mention A. Woollcott, H. Broun, G. Kaufman, 
M. Connelly, D. Parker, D. Stewart, I. Berlin, R. Sher- 
wood, H. Dietz, E. Ferber, H. Swope, D. Taylor, F. 
Sullivan, N. McMein, C. MacArthur, R. Crouse, and one 
or more of the interminable Marx Brothers. This was the 
nucleus of the group, the permanent acting company. 
Others attached themselves to it briefly from time to time. 
Noel Coward and Beatrice Lillie belonged when they were 
in town and so did the Lunts; Thornton Wilder and S. N. 
Behrman, coming into glory rather later than the others, 
were more or less honorary members, and even Jed Harris 
sometimes hung around because in that dim yesterday 
several people were actually speaking to him. 

Because of a certain patriarchal though not entirely 
benevolent aspect and a superior talent for abuse, Mr. 
Woollcott gradually became a sort of spiritual focus for the 
rest. It was he who played the parlor games of the period — 
Anagrams, Adverbs, Categories, Murder, and a dozen 
others — with the fiercest relish; it was he who won or lost 
at cards with the noisiest rejoicing and the blackest hate; 

Big Nemo 103 

it might even be said that it was he who, writing about his 
friends in almost every publication extant, earned against 
fairly stiff competition the title of the noblest logroller of 
them all. As a matter of fact, it was logrolling of a singularly 
high-minded and disinterested sort, for Mr. Woollcott, in 
his romantic way, had no doubt that he was entirely sur- 
rounded by genius, and every bouquet came from his heart. 
Nor was his generosity confined to print. He was passion- 
ately and even almost intrusively concerned with the pri- 
vate lives of all his acquaintances, and when catastrophe 
visited them, as it much too frequently did, he was usually 
the first to hear about it and his response was invariable. 
Dorothy Parker, who is not always so mellow, wrote an 
article about him in Vanity Fair in which she said, "He does 
more kindness than anyone I have ever known; and I have 
learned that not from him but from the people who have 
experienced it." 

In 1920, the average age of the members of the Thana- 
topsis-Algonquin axis was somewhere around twenty-eight, 
and with one or two exceptions they were comparatively 
unknown. The next ten years, however, brought extraordi- 
nary wealth and celebrity to most of them. Kaufman and 
Connelly wrote "Dulcy" in 1921 and worked together on 
such successes as "To the Ladies," "Merton of the Movies," 
and "Beggar on Horseback" until they split up, in 1926, 
after which Connelly wrote "The Wisdom Tooth" and "The 
Green Pastures" alone, and Kaufman collaborated with 
many people, among them Edna Ferber ("The Royal 
Family"), Ring Lardner ("J une Moon"), and Moss Hart 
("Once in a Lifetime"). MacArthur wrote "Lulu Belle" 
with Edward Sheldon in 1926 and "The Front Page" in 
1928 with Ben Hecht, the latter to the considerable profit 
of Jed Harris, who had already produced "Broadway" and 


In the same period, Howard Dietz, until 1924 a not 
especially humble press agent, helped to turn out two 
"Little Shows" and "Three's a Crowd." Behrman wrote 
"The Second Man" and adapted "Serena Blandish"; Sher- 
wood came out with "The Road to Rome," "The Queen's 
Husband," and "Waterloo Bridge;" and Donald Ogden 
Stewart, after an initial success with "A Parody Outline of 
History" and three or four other books, wrote and acted in 
a profitable little play called "Rebound." The ladies were 
busy too, with Edna Ferber turning out "So Big" and "Show 
Boat," Dorothy Parker picking up a reputation as the most 
murderous book critic of her time while herself producing 
two books of verse and one of short stories, and Neysa 
McMein becoming recognized as about the best pastel 
artist in the business. 

It was an exciting and gratifying time for everybody, but 
its very magnificence spelled the end of the Algonquin 
group as a local phenomenon. Hollywood got some of 
them and others moved to Connecticut, partly to escape the 
New York state income tax and partly under the sad old 
delusion that a man can write far more rapidly and beauti- 
fully while raising his own vegetables. Those who didn't 
move away were by now temperamentally unfit for the old 
close association, since there is nothing more enervating to 
the artist than the daily society of a lot of people who are 
just as famous as he is. The new conscience, born of dark 
doings abroad, also had some bearing on it. Mr. Woollcott's 
friends, who had no political convictions worth mentioning 
in 1920, began to think rather intensely and presently oc- 
cupied conflicting positions ranging all the way from 
mild liberalism to the ultimate hammer and sickle. 

They grew apart, meeting only occasionally and usually 
by accident. While they no longer knew one another in- 
timately, however, almost all of them kept in pretty close 

Big Nemo 105 

touch with Mr. Woollcott. His apartment at 450 East 
Fifty-second Street, which Dorothy Parker in a spasm of 
rascality had named Wit's End, was a comfortable, untidy 
garret looking down on the East River, and long after the 
Round Table and the Thanatopsis Club were dead it was 
still a hangout for whatever members of the old mob hap- 
pened to be in town. Sunday breakfast there lasted practi- 
cally all day, with Mr. Woollcott, in rumpled pajamas and 
an ancient, rather horrible dressing gown, receiving his 
guests from a throne in one corner with an air that would 
have done credit to Queen Victoria. 

"You kept thinking you ought to kiss his God damn hand," 
said one man who should never have been admitted to 
polite society in the first place and never was again. 

Games of chance in which a careless gambler could 
easily lose four or five hundred dollars at a sitting went 
on day and night, and when that palled, they played 
croquet, at which most of them were ferociously expert, 
either on the green in Central Park or out at Herbert 
Swope's house in Sands Point. 

It is hard to tell just exactly when Mr. Woollcott worked 
in the midst of all this revelry, but he did. He wrote his 
daily reviews and erudite pieces for the Sunday theatre 
section, which, incidentally, he and George Kaufman ele- 
vated from a press agents' clearing house to its present 
handsome and literary state. He even found time to turn 
out casual belles-lettres for many magazines. He was 
aided in all this by a succession of secretaries — intense, 
rather fragile young men, who protected their master from 
the vulgar public as reverently as if he had been a fine old 
tapestry. It is pleasant to report that most of them have 
passed on to artistic careers of their own, one man, indeed, 
now being known to millions as a gossip columnist on the 
Daily News, while another is visible nightly to thousands 


as a mandolin-player in "The American Way." The rest of 
Mr. Woollcott's domestic staff consisted of one dapper and 
mysterious young Negro, who had, to the best of anyone's 
knowledge, no other name than Junior. He was an im- 
aginative man, given to inventing dramatic and unlikely 
pasts for himself, and he has gone down slightly to history 
for a comforting remark he made to Jed Harris, who, or so 
it seemed to Junior, was unduly conscious of his racial 

"You take me now, sir," said Junior. "Why, my own 
grandfather was a Jew." 

With the close of the theatre season in the spring, Mr. 
Woollcott always left town. For a few years he experi- 
mented with houses on Long Island and in Westchester, 
but they were never very satisfactory. He dreamed of 
something more remote and inaccessible, a communal Eden 
— the theories of Brook Farm and Phalanx have never been 
far from his heart — free from the sights and sounds and 
disgusting little faces that haunted him in Times Square. 
In 1920 he found it in Neshobe, a seven-acre, beautifully 
wooded island in Lake Bomoseen, Vermont. 

Neshobe was bought from its original owners about 
thirty years ago by a lawyer named Enos Booth, who built 
a small cottage there as a headquarters for hunting and 
fishing trips. Mr. Booth was apparently a simple man him- 
self, but he had literary friends and just after the war a 
few of them began to come up for weekends. That wound 
up the hunting and fishing, but it also sent the island off 
on its career as the most relentlessly playful resort in New 
England. It wasn't long after the first artists came to Ne- 
shobe before the place was overrun with them. Eventually 
Mr. Booth decided to turn the island into a club and then, 

Big Nemo 107' 

shortly after having made his contribution to American art 
and letters, he passed quietly from the scene. 

In addition to Mr. Booth, the early members were Wooll- 
cott, Alice Duer Miller, Harpo Marx, Neysa McMein, Ray- 
mond Ives, George Kaufman, Dorothy Parker, Marc Con- 
nelly, and Charles MacArthur, and all but the last three, 
who turned out to be languid about their dues, now be- 
long. The dues, still in force, were probably reasonable 
enough, all things considered. There was an initiation 
fee of $1,250, an annual charge of $150, and another charge 
of $7.50 for every day spent on the island. While the 
membership was restricted to ten, there were beds for 
sixteen and guests could be brought provided that their 
sponsors paid $7.50 a head for them and also that they 
were acceptable mentally to everybody. A young lady who 
went up there explained this matter clearly though rather 
forbiddingly in an article she subsequently wrote for a 
magazine. "There is no pat way to sum up the perfect guest 
on the island," she said. "Individuality and vitality of 
thought, quick wit, charm, and proficiency at games are 
desirable qualifications. . . . But if a guest can qualify 
simply as an engaging companion, he needs no additional 
social talents. For, contrary to rumor, talk on the island is 
not entirely badinage; it is anything and everything, as 
rich and unflagging a mixture as ever stemmed from an 
assortment of active, alert, and challenging minds. Sooner 
or later an opportunity to chime in comes to everyone who 
is there, but it is better to say nothing than to say some- 
thing badly. Pleasant as they may be personally, bores are 
never tolerated." 

She didn't explain what happens to the bores, and it is 
best perhaps just not to think about it. 

In the beginning the island was actually cooperative, 


but by now it is half owned and almost wholly buffaloed by 
Mr. Woollcott. It is he who, grimly impatient for the 
games to begin, routs the rich, challenging minds up at 
seven-thirty every morning to go for a swim in the cold 
lake; it is he who, from morning to midnight, drives them 
ruthlessly from the lake to the croquet ground to the back- 
gammon table; he who a year ago removed himself grandly 
from the community shack and built a fine stone house 
all his own, with marble baths and an open fire in every 
bedroom. The other members visit the island intermittently 
between May and October, but Mr. Woollcott spends al- 
most all the summer there and even goes up alone in the 
dead of winter, crossing dangerously from the mainland 
on the ice. He loves Neshobe as proudly and jealously as 
young Bonaparte loved Corsica. 

The island is a perpetual source of wonder to the simple 
Vermont natives who circumnavigate it cautiously in mo- 
torboats and observe the inmates, who are frequently to 
be seen lying like seals along the rocky shore. The general 
opinion apparently is that Neshobe is a sort of Hollywood 
nudist camp, and this leads to odd confusions. Thornton 
Wilder has been mistaken for Jack Benny, and MacArthur, 
sun-bathing in the nude, was once pleased to hear himself 
identified as Irving Berlin and sang "All Alone" loud and 
clear in gratitude. A few years ago, Mr. Woollcott himself, 
inadequately wrapped in a dressing gown and wearing a 
limp, enormous straw hat, was reading one day on the dock 
when a boatload of sightseers drifted by. Their voices 
came to him quite plainly over the water. 

"Who on earth is that?" he heard one lady cry in startled 
and even rather horrified tones. 

Tin not sure," said another voice doubtfully, "but I 
think it's Marie Dressier." 

Big Nemo 109 

Mr. Woollcott resigned from the World at the end of the 
1928 theatre season. For a long time the physical discom- 
fort and mental anguish of writing daily theatrical criticism 
had been wearing him down. He was not as thin as he 
once was, and the after-theatre congestion in Times Square 
was driving him crazy. He wrote his pieces in a little office 
in the Hotel Continental, where breathless couriers 
snatched the completed pages out of his typewriter and 
delivered them to a telegrapher. In the end even this got 
too hard, especially as the World, in a desperate effort to 
beat the other papers to the street, kept advancing his 
deadline until, unless Mr. Woollcott left before the curtain 
went down, he often had no more than twenty minutes to 
turn out his copy. It was not only nerve-racking to work 
under such pressure; he also felt that there was something 
vaguely absurd in making such a commotion about plays 
that nine times out of ten were of no conceivable interest to 

"It was like engaging Balto to rush a relief supply of 
macaroons to Nome," he says, obviously pleased with the 

He also felt in a dim way that perhaps he had got to be a 
dramatic critic too young. He still loved the theatre better 
than anything else, but somehow he couldn't imagine be- 
ing a critic for fifteen or twenty years more. It was too long 
a time just to keep on doing the same thing. The prospect 
appalled him. 

"A man can't take the job of his life at twenty-seven," he 
said once, trying to explain the almost panic restlessness 
he felt. 



With his resignation as dramatic critic for the World in 
May, 1928, Alexander Woollcott entered the present phase 
of his career, a period of great, though rather jumbled 
activity. During the next ten years he was to be, often 
simultaneously, a Broadway star, a playwright, a contribu- 
tor to the magazines, a radio performer, a moving-picture 
actor, a lecturer, an anthologist, a stock-market operator, 
and an advertising-copy writer for tobacco, whiskey, and 
fast automobiles. He was forty-one years old, and Walter 
Pitkin might well have used him for a frontispiece. 

He had left the World because of the wear and tear on 
his nervous system caused by the demands of daily journal- 
ism. Looking around for something that would give him 
time to arrange his thoughts in a decent and leisurely fash- 
ion, his eye fell on the magazines and by February, 1929, 
he was writing for them busily. Here, for the first time, he 
was able to deal with the things, unconnected with the 
theatre, which had been cluttering up his mind for years. 
He still paid an occasional fragrant tribute to Mrs. Fiske, 
Chaplin, and the Marx Brothers, of course, for these names 
write themselves almost automatically on his typewriter, 
but for the most part he dealt with his experiences in the 
larger world. The past played a considerable part in all 
this — memories of his early days in Phalanx, N.J., Kansas 
City, and Philadelphia; anecdotes about Hamilton College 
and the A.E.F. — but he covered the present, too, writing 
winsomely about the celebrated people he knows all over 
the world. Sometimes he spoke chillingly of murder and 
sometimes he published even more gruesome collections 
of Americana. He told about the books he liked and the 
ones he loathed, the games he played, the restaurants he 

Big Nemo ill 

ate in, and once he even described, though in rather eva- 
sive terms, his impressions of the Soviet Union. It was a 
remarkable potpourri and it was served with remarkable 
elegance. Newspaper deadlines had been hard on his 
style, but now it came into its own, a sort of heavenly 
compound of Dickens and Chesterton with perhaps a little 
earthly leaven of Booth Tarkington and even hellish proph- 
ecies here and there of Lucius Beebe, whose intolerably 
flossy column wasn't to make its appearance for nearly five 

As other men fear and hate the dentist's drill, Mr. Wooll- 
cott is tortured by an unbalanced sentence. Adverbs and 
adverbial phrases ("oddly enough" is his favorite) and 
tender apostrophes to the reader ("my blossom," "puss," 
"my little dears") are judiciously inserted until the magic 
equilibrium is achieved. His mind is intricate and cir- 
cuitous and thoughts often emerge from it in an arrange- 
ment of subordinate clauses that would have satisfied 
Henry James. Woollcott is romantic, and this can express 
itself in a tropic violence of description. He is in love with 
the dear past, and it lives again in his prose in words like 
"wraprascal," "gaffer," "tippet," and "minx." At its best, all 
this can have an admirable effect, charming the reader's 
ear and conveying the author's own emotion vividly to his 
mind; at its infrequent worst, when Mr. Woollcott is be- 
trayed by his too easily accessible heart, it suggests to 
some extent the tormented prose of a sophomore writing to 
his girl. 

Mr. Woollcott's relations with his various editors were 
amiable for the most part. He was prompt with his copy, 
which was typed with never a misspelling or an erasure 
on long sheets of delicately tinted paper, and he was agree- 
ably reliable when it came to facts. The difficulties that 
arose were usually temperamental, resulting from a curious 


paradox in Mr. Woollcott's character. Although the in- 
nocent vulgarities of the advertising business horrified him 
— a product called Didy Panties almost did him in — he 
had a lingerie salesman's fondness for smoking-car 
anecdotes, the lower the better. About once a month a 
specimen would turn up which would usually not only be 
unprintable in any magazine not intended exclusively for 
the United States Marines but would also be drearily 
familiar to all worldly editors. Its removal from his copy 
was always the signal for a fierce battle, with Mr. Wooll- 
cott passing from blank astonishment that anyone could be 
virginal enough to object to such a pretty story, then to a 
vehement lecture on the subject of taste, and finally to the 
cold tendering of his resignation. On several occasions, 
when some editor had as usual proved adamant, he actually 
did resign and had to be won back with humble telephone 
calls and ardent letters. These lovers' quarrels turned up 
periodically and while they brought two or three editors 
close to nervous collapse, Mr. Woollcott enjoyed them 
thoroughly. Up in his topless tower on the East River, he 
sometimes felt as controversial and desirable as Helen of 

On the morning of October 19, 1929, Mr. Woollcott was 
reasonably well off. He and his friends knew gifted people 
in Wall Street and with this professional assistance, or 
perhaps in spite of it, they had all done very nicely in the 
market. It was reflected in their lives. They spoke in the 
proud, mysterious language of finance, and they moved 
their poker game from the Algonquin to the Colony, where 
the check for refreshments was usually more than any- 
body had made in a week when the Thanatopsis Club 
began. Almost everybody bought a little place in the coun- 
try. Like so much wealth of the period, however, their 

Big Nemo 113 

profits were entirely a matter of bookkeeping, and when 
the American dream abruptly turned into a nightmare, 
most of them were seriously damaged. In two days Mr. 
Woollcott had dropped more than $200,000. He was play- 
ing croquet out on Long Island when his broker telephoned 
to say that he was finally undone. Mrs. George S. Kauf- 
man, who was playing with him and had herself had a 
fairly painful lesson in the folklore of capitalism, says that 
he came back to the croquet ground and finished his 
game without batting an eye. 

Later he was even able to describe his broker genially as 
a man who could run your fortune into a shoestring, but 
in spite of this unearthly detachment his losses had been 
annoying. His income from his magazine writing was 
somewhere around $30,000 a year, but he had strong ob- 
ligations to his family and to other people — he was putting a 
Vermont boy through Hamilton, for one thing — and his 
scale of living, with the New York apartment and the island 
in Lake Bomoseen, was not especially modest. Mr. Wooll- 
cott admires money as much as the next man and now, 
especially, a little extra would come in handy. He had been 
approached by the radio from time to time, but he had 
never paid much attention. In fact, he had never willingly 
listened to a broadcast in his life and regarded the un- 
pleasant sounds he occasionally heard in his friends' houses 
as no more than childish attempts to upset him when he 
was concentrating on the cards. This, however, was no 
time to be proud, and by the end of October he had 
succumbed, going on the air one Sunday night in a fifteen- 
minute sustaining program called "The Town Crier." There 
wasn't a great deal of money in that, but by the following 
September he was being sponsored by the Gruen Watch- 
makers Guild and appearing two nights a week. At this 
time he also took over a sustaining program in which he 


reviewed books under the prettily whimsical title of The 
Early Bookworm, a choice which was more or less per- 
plexing in view of the fact that he had once expressed 
horrified disgust upon learning that Mrs. Isabel Paterson 
of the Herald Tribune had decided to call her column 
"Turns with a Bookworm." He was off the air from March, 
1931, until September, 1933, when he came back again as 
The Town Crier and was handsomely sponsored, first by 
the Cream of Wheat Company and then by Liggett & 
Myers, for whom he spoke admiringly of Granger Cut 
Plug. For a while he was being paid $3,500 a broadcast, 
which is probably not much as radio salaries go, but is 
not, on the other hand, just hay, puss. 

Mr. Woollcott came to like the radio, there being some- 
thing about projecting himself into several million parlors 
at the same time which answered the special requirements 
of his spirit, and although his programs were a little ad- 
vanced for the Amos 'n Andy public, he was successful and 
popular. Like his magazine articles, his broadcasts covered 
a great deal of ground, touching on books and the theatre, 
furnishing affectionate bulletins about his friends, and 
carrying on his perpetual crusades for the Seeing Eye and 
Hamilton College. He was, if anything, more emotional 
than he was in print, and finally this led to one of the most 
maddening experiences of his life. 

On the day following an especially rich performance, he 
was going over his fan mail when he came upon a letter 
written on ruled paper in a hand that shook a little but was 
fine and legible still — an old-fashioned hand, with curlicues. 
The letter bore no address and it was unsigned, but never- 
theless there was something about it that afflicted its recip- 
ient with the same romantic melancholy he felt whenever 
he thought about Mrs. Fiske. 

His correspondents, it appeared from the text, were two 

Big Nemo 115 

old ladies, sisters, and they lived somewhere near Albany. 
They didn't care to be more specific than that because they 
were afraid that Mr. Woollcott might want to help them 
and they couldn't take charity from anybody. The fact re- 
mained, however, that they had little left in life except their 
radio, to which they listened every night when the dishes 
were washed and the chores all done. They liked a lot of 
things they heard, but they thought Mr. W. was about 
the best thing in the world. He had no idea what com- 
fort he'd brought into their lives, and for their part they 
didn't know what they'd do without him as they went 
down into the Valley of the Shadow. There was indeed a 
scriptural tone all through the letter, as might have been 
expected from two ladies whose only consolation, at least 
until The Town Crier came along, had presumably been 
Holy Writ. 

Mr. Woollcott had photostatic copies made of the letter 
and sent them around to his friends, declaring that this 
was the greatest tribute he'd ever received. He also sere- 
naded the sisters on the air, having the studio orchestra play 
what he felt sure must be their favorite tunes — the old 
simple songs, things like "Home, Sweet Home" and "Way 
Down Upon the Swanee River." These serenades, incident- 
ally, had already gone out from The Town Crier to many 
people, among them ex-Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, 
who died three days later, causing Charles MacArthur, a 
Baptist faun, to send Mr. Woollcott a brief wire. "One," it 
said pleasantly. Anyway, more letters came from the sisters 
and at last one that announced that the elder of them had 
died, died happily and confident of her salvation at the 
very moment he went off the air. It was a lot to ask, said 
the survivor, but next week, if he could spare the time, 
would Mr. Woollcott mind reading the Twenty-third Psalm 
over the radio. It would be a sort of requiem. Mind indeed! 


The next week, with a catch in his throat, Mr. Woollcott 
read the Twenty-third Psalm. It was a great emotional 
performance, judged by any standards. "He was right in 
the groove that night," says a musical friend admiringly. 

Nothing was heard then for a week or two, but finally a 
letter came in another, younger hand. Both sisters were 
dead now, it said, and the last one had also died with 
gratitude to Alexander Woollcott in her heart. The sisters 
were gone, but their memory plagued him. He was deter- 
mined to find out who they had been, where and how they 
had lived, anything at all about them. He exhausted all the 
possibilities, even sending an agent up to explore the coun- 
try around Albany to see if anybody remembered two old 
ladies who had lived alone. A Catholic priest had been 
named in one of the letters — the only actual clue — but he 
proved as elusive as his parishioners and nothing came of 
him, either. Mr. Woollcott spent almost as much as he made 
from his broadcasts trying to beat the sisters out of the 
bush, but it was no good. Apparently they had left behind 
them no relatives, no graves, and, what was most curious 
of all, no death certificates. 

Some of Mr. Woollcott's friends, who may have heard 
a little too much about the sisters while they were alive, 
began to ask if they had ever lived at all. Mightn't it be 
just a little joke? How else could you account for this 
strange vanishment? The case was never publicly proved 
one way or the other, but people who ought to know said 
that the weird sisters and their letters were in actual fact 
the work of a brooding author whose book Mr. Woollcott 
had dismissed too arrogantly as tripe. They knew this 
miserable man, they said, and had even listened to his 
shameless confession. Mr. Woollcott found it hard to accept 
this explanation. In spite of all the evidence, he couldn't 

Big Nemo 117 

believe that any human heart could be black enough for 
such villainy. Nor can he even now. 

Mr. Woollcott still appears on occasional guest programs, 
although he hasn't had a regular hour of his own since 
July, 1937. A few weeks ago, as The Town Crier, he spoke 
over WEAF in behalf of political refugees (this was a 
triumph for him, since once he had resigned in disgust 
because they wouldn't let him criticize dictatorships ) , and 
more recently he might have been heard praising — of 
all things — the Hamilton College Choir. Some time ago he 
was on the Information Please Hour when it embarrass- 
ingly developed that, although Dickens is one of his most 
widely advertised enthusiasms, he had never finished read- 
ing "Bleak House," and the behavior of his colleagues on 
this occasion was so exasperating to him that one listener 
reported that he was the only man she had ever heard who 
could pout quite unmistakably over the air. 

His career in the theatre began about the same time as 
his first venture on the radio. During the summer of 1929, 
he had been collaborating with George S. Kaufman on 
"The Channel Road," an adaptation of de Maupassant's 
"Boule de Suif," and it was put on at the Plymouth 
Theatre in the fall of that year. The critics, who may not 
have been precisely laying for Mr. Woollcott but certainly 
hadn't been weaving any garlands for him either, jumped it 
with glad little cries. It was a wordy, shapeless, amateurish 
piece, they said, and suggested that Mr. Woollcott go back 
to his fancywork. This vigorous reception was enough to 
discourage him until the fall of 1933, when, again in col- 
laboration with Mr. Kaufman, he turned up with a 
pathological study in murder called "The Dark Tower." 
This was a little better, but not much. In spite of an 


unusual amount of villainy, it was a rather static play and 
the sight of Miss Margalo Gillmore wandering through most 
of it in a hypnotic trance seemed to have a rather stupefy- 
ing effect on the audiences. 

The reason for both these failures probably lay in a curi- 
ous relationship between the authors. Mr. Kaufman, usually 
an acute and practical judge of scripts, with strong opinions 
of his own, was a helpless admirer of Mr. Woollcott's prose, 
which seemed to him to have a grace and felicity not en- 
tirely of this world. He had occasional misgivings about 
how some of the more elegantly sculptured lines would 
sound when offered on the stage as the casual speech of 
human beings, but his modest heart told him that this was 
Art and therefore not to be tampered with by the likes of 
him. The result was that Mr. Woollcott was played as 
written, and was presently playing largely to empty seats. 
The budding playwright's own opinion of both these ven- 
tures can be guessed at from his paragraph in Who's Who, 
which lists all his other occupations but says nothing to 
suggest that he ever wrote a play in his life. 

His acting, of course, was something else. On November 
9, 1931, Mr. Woollcott made his first appearance as a child 
actor of forty-five in S. N. Behrmans "Brief Moment." He 
opened before a first-night audience made up largely of 
his dearest friends, most of whom hoped, in an amiable 
way, that he would stink. They were disappointed. Wooll- 
cott, who spent the evening lolling around on a sofa 
and insulting people, was barely distinguishable from the 
Woollcott they knew in private life. Since this was just what 
Mr. Behrman had in mind, the performance, while not 
precisely acting, had to be regarded as adequate. The 
Times Mr. Atkinson, clinging desperately to ancient stand- 
ards, said that for Mr. Woollcott "acting consists in speak- 
ing rather more deliberately than he does in the aisles and 

Big Nemo 119 

lobbies" and added that he not only dislocated the couch 
on which he sprawled but also to a certain extent the play 
itself. This, however, can be dismissed as the remark of a 
classicist. Languidly horizontal, beautifully plump, and 
talking in that strangely precise voice, which still has sharp 
overtones of Kansas City, Mr. Woollcott was the hit of the 
show and it was he rather than Miss Francine Larrimore, 
or even the author, who was responsible for the fact that it 
ran for thirteen weeks. His second appearance on the stage, 
in Mr. Behrman's "Wine of Choice" last winter, was a very 
similar performance, but since he had a lot more to do and 
was even asked to move around a little, it was not quite so 
successful. As an occasional choral effect he is admirable, 
but as a featured exhibit he can grow monotonous. 

In spite of the fact that Mr. Woollcott's technique on 
the stage involved no more than playing himself, he took 
his acting pretty seriously. Once, during the run of "Brief 
Moment," he happened to see a special matinee of a play 
starring his old friends the Lunts, and its effect was im- 
mediately perceptible in his own next performance. Miss 
Larrimore, coming off after the first act, complained bitterly 
to Mr. Behrman. "He just lies there and mutters, Sam," 
she said. "I can't hear a damn word he says." 

Tactfully questioned by Mr. Behrman, who asked him if 
he was unwell, Woollcott dissolved the mystery. 

"I see everything now," he said. "I've been working too 
hard. God, you ought to see Alfred. Never raises his voice. 
It's marvellous." 

He was also given to experimenting on his own hook and 
often came to Mr. Behrman or Guthrie McClintic, who 
directed him, for approval. 

"Did you notice me in the second scene tonight?" 

"You were swell, Aleck," they would say politely. 

"I know, but that business with the cigarette, where I 


look at Larrimore and then light it instead of the way we 
had it before?" 

"Sure. That's swell." 

"I thought it kind of pointed the whole thing up myself," 
he would say with satisfaction. 

These improvisations had a somewhat disturbing effect 
on the rest of the cast, who were never completely sure 
what Mr. Woollcott was liable to do next, and they were 
also handicapped by the fact that his performance moved 
at a tempo of its own which hadn't very much to do with 
anything else that was going on on the stage. It was in 
"Wine of Choice," however, that he startled them most. 
Somebody had given him a Spanish cape, a spectacular 
thing, richly lined with crimson silk. It was, his false 
friend said, exactly what was needed to give his part a little 
extra touch of color and romance. Mr. Woollcott, who is no 
man to resist beauty, wore the cape in the out-of-town 
tryouts and would undoubtedly have done so on Broadway 
if his colleagues hadn't protested in a body. Not only was 
he a vehement spot of color, they said, reducing the rest 
of them to pale ghosts; he was even bad for their nerves. 

"Every time he comes on I think, 'Good God, it's Bela 
Lugosi,' " said the pretty ingenue rather wildly. 

Mr. Behrman was chosen to express their discontent, 
and when he explained that the cape was disturbing every- 
body terribly, Mr. Woollcott gave up, although he still 
wore it around town and was frequently mistaken for an 

In spite of his dreamy passion for the theatre, he never 
lost his practical financial sense. At one time, when "Brief 
Moment" wasn't doing especially well, the whole cast was 
asked to take a twenty-five-per-cent cut, and, though 
sadly, they all at last agreed — all, that is, except Mr. Wooll- 
cott. It had been his contention from the beginning that 

Big Nemo 121 

he was miserably underpaid, and the proposal that he take 
even less infuriated him. Not only did he refuse to take the 
cut; he demanded a raise and a substantial one, too. He 
threatened to resign and he had them there, because there 
was no question by this time that it was the prospect of 
seeing Woollcott plain that got people into the theatre. 
His salary, which had been $400 a week, was nearly 
doubled, which was more than could be said for his popu- 
larity with the rest of the company. 

All his financial affairs, as a matter of fact, have gone 
nicely in the ten years since the crash wiped him out. His 
income from the radio varied widely, but it seems likely 
that he collected at least $200,000 for the four years he 
was on the air; his magazine work brought in about $125,- 
000; and as an actor and playwright he must have made 
$50,000, including his percentage from the sale of "The 
Dark Tower" to the movies. "While Rome Burns," published 
in 1934, sold an amazing total of 290,000 copies and his 
royalties from that were $70,000, while the two "Woollcott 
Readers," issued in 1935 and 1937, although they didn't 
approach that figure, made together between $15,000 and 

These were his main sources of income, of course, but 
other tidy sums kept dropping in his lap. In 1935, for in- 
stance, he played himself for a brief, profitable moment 
with Noel Coward in a moving picture called "The Scoun- 
drel," and, in 1934, ne nao ^ made a short for R.K.O. about 
spelling games; out-of-town ladies were always delighted to 
hear him lecture, since he was known to be personally ac- 
quainted with all the bright, disreputable people in the 
world; and in his spare time he had drummed up a very 
satisfactory little trade in commercial endorsements 
(Woollcott collapsed bonelessly on the back seat of a Chry- 


sler, Woollcott urging all his friends in a rather peremptory 
form letter to give him a bottle of Seagram's whiskey for 
Christmas, Woollcott in full color and waving a bell, saying 
Granger Cut Plug is good for you ) . His ten-year total was 
certainly well over $700,000, and while an income of 
$70,000 a year, about thirty per cent of which went to the 
tax-collectors and perhaps another ten to agents, isn't 
money in the Hollywood sense, it was doing all right for a 
man who on the whole had managed to devote his talent 
only to things that really interested him. 

Mr. Woollcott's life, while unquestionably ideal for him, 
sometimes makes morbid observers think of a spider in its 
web. Recently, whenever he hasn't been hibernating up on 
Lake Bomoseen, he has been living at the Gotham Hotel in 
a suite that has the same untidy but expensive air that 
clings about him personally. His friends drop in obediently 
when he sends for them, and he loots and insults them over 
the card table with the best nature in the world. He is also 
high-handed with the employees of the hotel, who have 
learned rather painfully that the usual rules don't apply to 
the old eccentric in 9B. The other day, for instance, the 
clerk at the desk telephoned him to say that Miss Ina Claire 
was downstairs. 

"All right, send her up," said Mr. Woollcott. 

"I can't, sir," said the clerk nervously. "She has a dog." 

"Either Miss Claire's dog comes up or I'm coming down," 
said Mr. Woollcott, and added gently, "I'm in my pajamas." 

Miss Claire's dog came up. 

Although he is fascinated by other people's domestic ar- 
rangements, Mr. Woollcott has never come very close to 
getting married himself. He has admired many ladies and 
once his engagement was considerately announced for him 
by the tabloids, but the idea of a little woman sashaying 

Big Nemo 123 

around the house has never really appealed to him. He is, 
however, a terrific matchmaker — nothing delights him quite 
so much as throwing his startled acquaintances into one an- 
other's arms — and he is strongly attached to children. His 
four nieces, the daughters of his brother William, who lives 
in Baltimore, are proudly exhibited and handsomely enter- 
tained when they come to town, and he is godfather to 
many of his friends' children. He is always flattered when 
anybody asks him to take on these spiritual responsibilities, 
although not as flattered as he was last year when Harpo 
Marx, who once inserted a "Duer" in his own name as a 
tribute to a lady he adored, decided to call his adopted son 
William Woollcott Marx. 

At the moment Mr. Woollcott's plans are a little vague. 
Sometime in May, if not before, he will go up to his island 
and, dressed in a few disgusting rags, spend the summer 
knocking croquet balls around and thinking up new ways 
to badger the other inmates. If he feels like it and there is 
still peace anywhere in the world, he may even decide to go 
travelling again, as he used to do whenever his friends' per- 
sonalities got to seem more than he could bear. As a world 
traveller, he has covered a great deal of ground, skipping 
breathlessly from the polite and ancient splendors of Knole 
in Kent (where he was embarrassed to learn that he had 
spoken rudely of Lady Sackville when she was an American 
actress), to the Riviera (where Frank Harris, decaying in 
obscurity, tried to sell him an armful of books), and even 
turning up in Moscow (where the peasants were impressed 
by his royal stomach and Mme. Litvinoff asked him severely 
if, as an employee of The New Yorker, he wouldn't please 
find out why she hadn't been getting her magazine ) . 

Mr. Woollcott likes to travel, but somehow he always 
comes back a little sooner than he had planned. He doesn't 
actually believe his friends are incapable of conducting 


their lives in his absence, but on the other hand they are 
peculiar and helpless people, and he feels happier when he 
is around where he can keep an eye on them. 

Just now Mr. Woollcott's writing is confined largely to 
the stupendous correspondence he always carries on — a del- 
uge of affectionate or indignant or blasphemous but always 
stylishly written bulletins that many of his friends are 
thriftily storing up for posterity. In a day when most letter? 
aren't much more than hastily expanded telegrams, they 
are unique, and his correspondents are grateful to him — 
grateful, that is, except once in a while when they are apt 
to be a little startled by Mr. Woollcott's intricate sense of 
humor. When Beatrice Kaufman, for instance, gave her 
celebrated friend as a reference to the school in which she 
was entering her daughter, she received from him what for 
an uneasy moment she actually believed was a carbon copy 
of the letter he had sent the headmistress. "I implore you," 
it began, "to accept this unfortunate child and remove her 
from her shocking environment," and went on from there to 
describe the orgies which took place nightly in the Kauf- 
man household. S. N. Behrman was also momentarily 
taken aback when he got a carbon of the letter to a real-es- 
tate agent in which Mr. Woollcott remarked that he was 
astonished to learn that the company was even remotely 
considering accepting as a tenant such a notorious drunk- 
ard, bankrupt, and general moral leper as his miserable 
friend Behrman. Mr. Woollcott's correspondents undergo 
another small strain because he seldom puts his own name 
to his letters, preferring to sign them "Richard Whitney" or 
"Charles Hanson Towne" or sometimes, fondly, just "The 
Prince Chap." 

When he starts writing professionally again, he will prob- 
ably go back to contributing to the magazines, for it is in 

Big Nemo 125 

them he finds the audience that suits him best. However, 
the theatre and the movies and the radio are always there 
waiting for him, and television, of course, is just around 
the corner. At the back of his mind, he has a rather vague 
but entirely magnificent project for writing a definitive bi- 
ography of the late Oliver Wendell Holmes, whom he con- 
siders the greatest American of our time. He may get 
around to doing that. It doesn't really matter what he does. 
He will almost certainly be successful at it, but his greatest 
success will always lie, as it did when he was an actor, in 
his tireless, eloquent, and extraordinarily diverse perform- 
ance of the character called Alexander Woollcott, a man 
whose influence and importance can be attributed only in 
part to the work he has actually done. "He is predisposed to 
like people and things, in the order named," Dorothy Parker 
wrote of him once, "and that is his gift from Heaven and 
his career." 

Lady of the Cats 

Since 1919, Miss Rita Ross has done her best to rid the 
city of half a million homeless cats which the S.P.C.A. esti- 
mates roam its streets. Almost singlehanded, during that 
period she has turned over more than two hundred tons of 
cats to the Society for painless destruction. Like the Post 
Office ideal, Miss Ross is deterred neither by snow, nor rain, 
nor heat, nor gloom of night on her round of deadly mercy. 
On Sundays and holidays, blown along by the high March 
wind or baked by August, in buildings rotten and sagging, 
through streets that crawl and smell, almost always among 
people who are hostile or derisive, she has followed her in- 
comprehensible star. It is a bad day when she gets only six 
cats; it is a good one when she gets sixteen. Once, when the 
S.P.C.A. recklessly provided her with one of its wagons and 
a driver, she bagged fifteen hundred. She has the peculiar 
reputation of being able to move off under her own weight 
in cats. 

Miss Ross, though a furious and indomitable woman, is 
also a small one. She is five feet two and a quarter inches 
tall, and without equipment she weighs only a hundred and 
one pounds. Her face is shrewd, her glance penetrating, 
with a sort of birdlike fixity, her manner self-possessed and 
bouncy. She talks a good deal — coyly about her cats, sar- 
donically about the enemies she has routed on a thousand 
battlefields. She is around thirty-seven years old. 


Lady of the Cats 127 

Every morning at seven-thirty she leaves her home, a 
small stucco one-family house in the Bay Ridge section of 
Brooklyn, and takes the subway to the east end of Brooklyn 
Bridge. Here she alights and proceeds on foot over the 
bridge, gathering in cats as she goes. She works an average 
of fourteen hours a day, and she always keeps herself in 
first-class condition. Once, when a gang of hoodlums tried 
to deprive her of forty cats, she routed them decisively, 
wielding an ashcan with murderous effect. 

Of the agility which makes a seven-foot billboard only a 
negligible obstacle in her course, she says, "I studied acro- 
batic dancing when I was a chorus girl and that comes in 
handy in climbing. I can beat any man in the S.P.C.A. up a 
tree except Johnny Joule of the Brooklyn Shelter. He used 
to be a tree pruner for the Park Department and he is won- 
derful at getting up a tree." 

This is no empty boast. Once Miss Ross was interrupted 
in her customary work on the third floor of a deserted Har- 
lem tenement by a man who came in quietly and locked 
the door behind him. His manner was menacing and Miss 
Ross did not stop to question him about his intentions. She 
dissolved an untidy situation by scrambling through the 

Miss Ross's clothes are nondescript except for an enor- 
mous cone-shaped hat, which she wears to keep cobwebs 
and plaster out of her hair. Her equipment is bizarre. She 
carries more impedimenta than the average Red Cap: a 
big, homemade wire trap of the cage type, an animal case, 
and a good-sized market basket. The trap may contain as 
many as ten swearing cats, the animal case up to six more. 
In the market basket are tins of canned salmon, catnip, tin 
pie plates, a can opener, a flashlight, a police whistle, a ball 
of twine, and Bve burlap sacks, used to contain an occa- 
sional overflow from the trap and the animal case. Laden 


with these unusual devices and proceeding at an effortless 
lope that eats up the miles, Miss Ross is an arresting figure. 
She is even more so when a vague but cheerful impulse 
leads her to dye her black hair red, or to wear a yellow wig. 
Cat-catching on the grand scale leaves little time for 
other interests. Miss Ross has none of the accepted vices. 
She neither smokes nor drinks and if she had her choice, 
she says emphatically, she would rather kiss a cat than the 
best man who ever walked on two feet. 

While Miss Ross is unquestionably the champion cat 
woman, there are lesser ones, and occasionally she is ac- 
companied by a Miss Marion Kane. Miss Kane is about 
thirty-three, short, Celtic, and a ferocious hitter with either 
hand. When she and Miss Ross roam the streets of Harlem 
at night, prudent residents take cover, for both ladies have 
hasty dispositions and would not hesitate to engage an 
army. Most of the time, however, Miss Ross prefers to hunt 
alone, having, like so many gifted people, a distaste for col- 

Her usual hunting grounds are the bleaker, poorer parts 
of town. There she operates with matchless precision and 
technique, as relentlessly as doom. Every day she speaks to 
about a hundred people on the street, asking them to be on 
the lookout for stray cats and to communicate with her by 
mail when they hear of any. One ally, who modestly 
prefers to be known only as "The Lady from Grantwood, 
N.J.," scarcely allows a day to pass without providing Miss 
Ross with the address of at least one underprivileged cat. 
Miss Ross carries the answers to these requests in her bag 
and they dictate roughly her course for the day. In addi- 
tion, she cuts out bankruptcy notices from the papers, be- 
cause small-store failures almost always result in homeless 
or locked-in cats. The greater part of her success, however, 

Lady of the Cats 129 

can be laid to simple vigilance. She penetrates sewers, 
elevator shafts, and cellars, and climbs to roof tops. She in- 
vestigates freight yards, abattoirs, bridges, and cemeteries. 
She never passes a deserted building without making cat 
sounds, and it is a hard and cynical cat that can resist Miss 
Ross when she mews. She never allows any animal to be 
maltreated in her wide and various wanderings and can be 
almost as indignant about a horse whose teeth aren't clean 
as she can about one that is being beaten. While Miss Ross 
has room in her heart for the entire animal kingdom, she 
focusses principally on cats because she thinks they are 
victims of prejudice and bigotry. 

"A dog has a million friends to a cat's one," she says. 
"Why, even snakes are sometimes praised!" 

In a typical working day Miss Ross frequently covers be- 
tween twenty-five and thirty miles, running like a flame 
through the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and nearer New 
Jersey, stopping only reluctantly for food. In restaurants 
and lunchrooms her mystifying burden often arouses com- 
ment, but she is not embarrassed. 

"They're just a little nervous," she says, referring to the 
ghostly heave and bounce of the containers at her feet. 

The people among whom Miss Ross works always regard 
her with amazement and sometimes even with consterna- 
tion, a lady so oddly possessed being a little upsetting to 
the simple-minded. Once, accompanied by an admiring 
representative of this magazine, she entered a building at 
447 Lexington Avenue to call for a cat. The building was 
being renovated and the only occupant was a moody Negro 
in spectacles, hoeing mortar in a tub. Miss Ross told him 
she had come for the cat. 

"Whut cat?" he said. "I don't know of no cat." 

"Listen," said Miss Ross, and she gave her celebrated 
cry. They listened, and from a dark tunnel in the rear of 


the basement there came an answering cry, soft and dolor- 

"Why you want that cat?" asked the colored man, nerv- 

Miss Ross did not reply directly. She had put on her bee- 
hive hat and prepared a mess of salmon on a tin plate. She 
paused at the mouth of the aperture and looked at the 
colored man. 

"I don t suppose you noticed whether it was a boy or 
girl?" she asked. 

"Norn," he replied. "I don recollect." 

"Well," said Miss Ross, and disappeared, mewing softly. 

When she came out, blurred with cobwebs, she was car- 
rying a thin, exasperated cat which she thrust into her 
basket, already the prison of three others. Leaving the 
building, she spoke once more to the colored man, who had 
retreated behind a barrel of lime. 

"If you see any more kitties, you be nice and play with 
them, won t you?" she said. 

The uneasiness inspired by Miss Ross is by no means 
confined to the humble. There is no way of telling what the 
cats themselves think about her, though their gratitude is 
probably mixed with other emotions, but the S.P.C.A., that 
enlightened body of humanitarians, speaks of her with hor- 
ror. The day in 1926 when she brought in fifteen hundred 
cats is still remembered as the darkest point in the Society's 
history, although Miss Ross dismisses her stupendous feat 
lightly. She had spotted colonies of cats around town too 
large to be handled by a lady on foot — there were eighty- 
seven in the basement of one deserted tenement — and she 
had dreamed of the day when she would be able to deal 
with them wholesale. The Society's wagon and driver gave 
her her glorious opportunity and she seized it fiercely. 

Lady of the Cats 131 

From dawn until deep night, driven furiously from the Bat- 
tery to the Bronx, delivering fifty, sixty, a hundred cats at a 
clip to the stupefied officials, she accomplished the miracu- 
lous. The wagon and driver were withdrawn soon after- 
ward. Miss Ross, disappointed but by no means daunted, 
went back to patrolling the streets on foot, and even with 
this handicap continued to tax the Society's facilities. She 
still does. Sydney Coleman, vice-president of the Society 
and not essentially a robust man, has barred his door 
against her in a pitiable effort to save his reason. The Soci- 
ety itself would like to have her restrained legally before it 
is engulfed in a living wave of cats. This, however, would 
mean a court suit and such an advertisement might easily 
be bad for the Society. Kindly people, unaware of the real 
nature of the crisis, would take Miss Ross's side; contribu- 
tions would drop off. Last year an unofficial hearing was 
arranged before Magistrate Louis Brodsky in West Side 
Court. The judge told Miss Ross that the Society had a 
legal right to refuse cats in such staggering abundance. 
Miss Ross, with a ringing eloquence that made the repre- 
sentatives of the Society shudder, cried that it had no 
moral right before God or man to close its doors to sick or 
suffering animals. Magistrate Brodsky, a sanguine man, 
said in conclusion that he was satisfied that no further 
trouble would come up between Miss Ross and the Society. 
Miss Ross continued to use the Society's five borough shel- 
ters to deposit her cats. 

The charge has arisen — and the Society would probably 
give its handsomest medal to the man who can prove it — 
that Miss Ross is indiscriminate in her choice of cats, that 
in the fever of the chase she has abducted cats whose home 
lives were by no means insupportable. One fall, a few years 
ago, the West End Fruit Market, the New Yorker Delica- 
tessen Store, Schwartz Brothers Fruit Store, and other es- 


tablishments on the upper West Side missed their cats 
after Miss Ross had passed that way, conceivably on a 
broomstick; but whether she had anything to do with these 
disappearances has never been proved. To accusations of 
this kind Miss Ross has a firm, invariable answer. Three 
kinds of cats are safe from her — well-fed cats, altered cats, 
and nursing mothers. The first two imply ownership, the 
third maternity. No one can say with certainty that she has 
ever violated this rule. 

If nobody calls for them within forty-eight hours, the 
cats Miss Ross brings in to the S.P.C.A. are placed in a 
lethal chamber and asphyxiated in fifteen seconds. That 
her love is deadly, her artful miaou a siren song, does not 
concern Miss Ross too much. The stray cat in New York, 
she feels, can look forward only to a life of great suffering 
and anxiety, a lonely and miserable end. The alternative is 
euthanasia and, since he cannot make the choice himself, 
she does so for him, merciful beyond pity or regret. Estimat- 
ing that Miss Ross has seduced an average of ten cats a day 
for nineteen years, she has nearly seventy thousand souls 
on her conscience. They weigh lightly. 

"It's a better death than most humans get," she says. 

The police have also met Miss Ross, and they look on 
her with distaste mixed with a sort of stunned respect. She 
knows that any citizen has a right to use a patrolman's box 
to call the station house, and that a reported felony will 
bring two patrol cars; a murder, five. Several times when 
she has felt that things were getting a little out of hand, 
Miss Ross has not hesitated to shout murder. 

Innocent patrolmen have occasionally made the mistake 
of summoning Miss Ross to court and charging her with 
disorderly conduct. Not one of them has done so twice. She 
has an imposing courtroom presence and an astonishing 

Lady of the Cats 133 

legal vocabulary, so her accusers are often dismayed to 
learn that in the eyes of the law they have been either 
brutal or incompetent or both. She has even been known 
to bring departmental charges against patrolmen who have 
tried to thwart her in one way or another, and this has 
made the force wary, since such a charge remains on a 
mans record, proved or not. There are officers in New York 
who would not arrest Miss Ross if they caught her setting 
off a bomb. 

Thoughtful policemen, in fact, have concluded that the 
best way to deal with Miss Ross is to do what she says, even 
if it involves situations not found in the Manual. Once she 
commandeered two patrolmen from the Borough Park Sta- 
tion in Brooklyn and took them to a deserted bakery which, 
she said, contained two cats. This was true. The cats were 
plainly visible and painfully emaciated but, as the police- 
men discovered when they had forced their way in, Miss 
Ross had forgotten to mention that they were also insane. 
In their delirium they mistook their rescuers for aggressors 
and leapt furiously about the bakery. They were marvel- 
lously light from hunger and strain and for the better part 
of an hour they kept their freedom while Miss Ross and the 
patrolmen, all heavily floured, toiled irritably after them 
among the barrels. At last superior physical condition tri- 
umphed and the cats were captured and turned over to 
their nemesis. Miss Ross can be appreciative when the occa- 
sion seems to call for it. She wrote a letter of commenda- 
tion to the Police Commissioner himself. 

Probably the most striking example of the influence Miss 
Ross has with the police occurred some time ago in the 
Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. She was chased into the 
subway by a gang of boys trying to rescue a rather un- 
wieldy dog which she had been given by one of their 
mothers and now carried under her arm. It was her plan to 


conceal the dog in the ladies' room until the excitement 
blew over, but she was thwarted by an officious guard. Un- 
daunted, Miss Ross reversed her field, ran up another flight 
of stairs, and swung down the street to a stationery store. 
Once inside, to the owner's amazement she slammed the 
door and locked it. 

"Don't open that door," she said sharply as he came from 
behind the counter. 

"But Madam, this is a place of business." 

"Don't open that door," repeated Miss Ross, and gave 
him the dog to hold. While he held the dog uncertainly, 
she went to the telephone and put in a murder call. Inside 
thirty seconds, five radio patrol cars, commanded by a 
Sergeant Kelly of the Canarsie Station, had rushed to the 
scene. The police dispersed the crowd, and Miss Ross 
emerged triumphantly with the dog. 

"I demand protection against these ruffians," she said, 
and rode majestically in Sergeant Kelly's car to the nearest 
police station, where she left an order for an S.P.C.A. truck 
to come and pick up the dog. Then, as calmly as if such 
stirring things happened every day, she went out cat-gath- 

Miss Ross met Sergeant Kelly just the other day in the 

"Remember all that excitement in the stationery store, 
Rita?" he asked genially. 

In spite of the truce which she has forced upon the 
Police Department, Miss Ross is still a familiar figure in the 
magistrates' courts. At least six times a year she appears 
against people who have maltreated animals or else have 
insulted her or hampered her in the performance of her 
duty. She is merciless with those who abuse animals. She 
has succeeded in having countless five-dollar fines imposed 

Lady of the Cats 135 

on tradesmen who beat their horses, and one Negro jjnitor 
who was convicted of burning cats alive in his furnace was 
sentenced to six months in jail. She has never lost a case, 
though sometimes the penalties have seemed to her soft 
and foolish beyond belief. 

"My pet dislike is judges who are lenient in cruelty 
cases," she says, and probably only their judicial robes 
have saved many magistrates from the more tangible 
weight of her displeasure. 

With those who harass her personally, she is more mod- 
erate, though no less effective. All she wants is an apology, 
and her courtroom manner is lucid, demure, and undoubt- 
edly maddening to her opponents. Last summer Miss Ross 
summoned an Irene Mara before Magistrate Nicholas Pinto 
in Coney Island Court. This woman, aided and abetted 
by her mother, had used uncivil language in attempting to 
restrain Miss Ross from making off with a brood of cats. 
Unkind words had led to blows and in the end the embat- 
tled ladies had been separated by several patrolmen. A cer- 
tain disarray in Mrs. Mara's appearance suggested that 
Miss Ross had had all the better of the skirmish. Neverthe- 
less, the judge, influenced by the deceptive meekness in 
Miss Ross's manner, ruled that she was entitled to an apol- 

"Me apologize to her!" cried Mrs. Mara incredulously, 
and started to flounce out of the courtroom. The judge had 
her brought back and, after a stern lecture, the apology 
was given. 

"He called me a lady," Miss Ross says merrily, recalling 
this scene. " 'You apologize to this lady,' he said. Me, a 

Before the stray cats of the city so relentlessly took pos- 
session of her life, Rita Ross gave every promise of a sue- 


cessful career on the stage. Born Marion Garcewich, in the 
section of Harlem just north of 110th Street, she was the 
daughter of the German- Jewish proprietor of a gents' fur- 
nishing store. She attended Public School 170 in that 
neighborhood and eventually was graduated. In her teens, 
her family moved to Brooklyn. For a while she was a sales- 
girl for Loft's, and afterward a model for Galen Perrett, a 
commercial artist, from whose studio at 51 West Tenth 
Street her likeness emerged as the radiant face in the Bel- 
Ton Powder advertisements, displayed throughout the 
transportation systems of the city. In 1919 she got a job as 
a chorus girl in a road company of "So Long, Letty." 

Unfortunately for her career, it was at this time that she 
fell under the influence of her private daemon. Foreshadow- 
ing that remarkable pedestrianism which was later to wear 
down strong men, Miss Garcewich (now, for theatrical 
purposes, Rita Ross) used to walk across Brooklyn Bridge 
every day on her way to work in Manhattan. The cats of 
the lower East Side, degraded and mournful, attracted her 
strongly, and she got to picking up one or two of them and 
taking them to an S.P.C.A. shelter on her way uptown. 

It is hard to say how this merciful habit gradually be- 
came a compulsion. It appears that one cat simply led to 
another. Miss Ross herself has no explanation of it except 
in vague, humanitarian terms. It is only clear that from a 
lady who could, on the whole, take a cat or leave it alone, 
she was suddenly translated into the most prodigious cat- 
catcher of our time. As her obsession grew, her other inter- 
ests inevitably suffered. She was no less fetching as a 
chorus girl, of course, but she became a little embarrassing 
as an associate. In Salt Lake City, she rescued an alley cat 
from a vivisectionist by beating him severely over the head 
with her handbag. In Indianapolis, where she had gone 
with "The Spice of 1922" company, she was dismissed for 

Lady of the Cats 137 

picking up a dirty white poodle and installing it in her 
dressing room. 

By 1926, when she was playing in "The Song of the 
Flame" in Chicago, her peculiarities were so generally 
recognized that she was warned by the management not to 
bring any animals into the theatre. She wrestled heroically 
with temptation, but the habit had her in an iron grip. One 
night she smuggled in two shivering kittens and hid them 
in shoebags below her mirror in the general dressing room. 
The cats, numb and grateful, remained as they were during 
the first number. When, however, the chorus girls came 
back after the second number, clawed costumes covered 
the floor and the wardrobe mistress panted after two hilari- 
ous cats. Miss Ross returned to New York. She remained 
on the stage during the run and tour of Hope Hampton's 
"My Princess" in 1927, but her heart wasn't in it. When it 
closed, she retired to devote all her time to her cats. 

"I'm not sorry I stopped the stage," she says. "This work 
is much more interesting. You never know what's going to 

She realizes that a professional cat-catcher cannot hope 
to be as immaculate as Mrs. Harrison Williams, and occa- 
sionally this causes her mild distress. Last summer she 
passed Arthur Hammerstein in Greenwich Village. Miss 
Ross was in full regalia and the producer looked firmly at 
something else. 

"My, was I embarrassed! I just slunk past." 

On the whole, though, she has never regretted her 
choice. The average chorus girl, she feels, is at least as pe- 
culiar as she is, and not in the direction of good works, 

Miss Ross now lives with her widowed mother, a brother, 
two sisters, and a nephew, all of whom regard their rela- 


tive's habit of sleeping in a room crawling with cats as 
merely odd. These cats are transient, being ones that she 
has picked up too late at night to turn over to the S.P.C.A. 
She maintains only one cat of her own, a deaf, toothless 
antique named Tibby-Wibby Simpson Ross, the gift of an 
amiable colored woman Miss Ross met on Lenox Avenue. 
In addition to the usual handicaps of age, Tibby-Wibby 
has another, of an embarrassing nature. 

"He'll never be a daddy," Miss Ross explains delicately. 

Miss Ross is given her room and some of her meals by her 
family, and, since she is a vegetarian and a light eater any- 
way, the others don't cost much. Money for her clothes, 
her cat-trapping equipment, and the rest of her needs 
comes from well-wishers. She is supported at the moment 
by two anonymous ladies — one in Brooklyn and one in 
Manhattan — who send her a total of fifteen dollars a week 
in care of Variety, which still nervously handles her mail. 
At various times during her career, Miss Ross's patronesses 
have changed, but she has always been able to find ladies, 
generally prominent supporters of the S.P.C.A., who were 
anxious to continue her good, though unusual, work. Occa- 
sionally there are windfalls from antivivisectionists or peo- 
ple whom she has helped to rid of a plague of cats. In all, 
she receives about nine hundred dollars a year, which is 
ample for a woman who up to now has never even been 
able to find time to go to a talking picture. 

Singular things have happened in the course of her 
career. Once, when she was rearranging her cats in a ladies' 
room in an "L" station, a habit she has when pressed for 
time, another passenger, alarmed by strange, thin cries 
from an adjoining booth, told the ticket agent that a child 
had just been born, and was barely restrained from sending 
for an ambulance. Again, in the old New York Hospital at 
Fifteenth Street and Sixth Avenue, Miss Ross was forced by 
a series of improbable circumstances to pursue a cat up 

Lady of the Cats 139 

from the basement and under a bed in the psychopathic 
ward. Doctors and nurses, coming in to find what they im- 
agined to be a fully dressed patient down on her hands and 
knees mewing, tried to get her undressed and back into 
bed. Things looked fairly black until somebody discovered 
that there actually was a cat under the bed. Miss Ross, 
however, kept her poise. 

As a matter of fact, she says she has been really at a loss 
only once. That was when a dozen of her cats escaped 
three summers ago while she was riding on the Third Ave- 
nue "L." Miss Ross was sitting quietly with her eyes closed, 
bothering no man. Suddenly, for some unexplained reason, 
the lid of her animal case flew open. A stream of cats, long 
pent and indignant, emerged and, with Miss Ross anx- 
iously after them, leaped and gambolled down the aisle, 
springing over and upon the agitated passengers. When 
the train stopped, the cats, Miss Ross, and most of the pas- 
sengers got off in a hurried flux. The passengers milled un- 
happily around on the platform. The cats, with Miss Ross 
pursuing the main body, scampered down both stairways. 
Baffled by their unfamiliar surroundings in the street, the 
cats darted perilously about in the traffic while Miss Ross 
sifted after them, like an image in an old moving picture 
cranked up to dizzy speed. In the end she got them all, but 
for once the situation threatened to be a little beyond her. 

"I can tell you I blushed," she says, describing a vehic- 
ular chaos which must have compared very favorably with 
that immediately following the Wall Street explosion. 

The future, like the past and present, holds for Miss Ross 
only a continuation of her singular crusade. The half -mil- 
lion cats still loose on the streets are a challenge to her 
genius and she cannot rest until the last one is trapped and 
riding to its doom. Even at her present spectacular rate, it 
is the work of a lifetime. She approaches it without misv 

St. George and the Dragnet 

In a great many ways, Thomas Edmund Dewey is an im- 
pressive Presidential candidate. He was born in a typical 
American town (Owosso, Mich., pop., 14,496) and he 
came of sound American stock (the hero of Manila Bay 
was his grandfather's third cousin). In his virtuous youth, 
he belonged to the Boy Scouts, sang in the choir, and 
peddled the Saturday Evening Post, winning a bicycle. At 
one time he spent the summer working as a hired hand on 
a farm, and at another he learned to set type on his father's 
newspaper. He went to the local public schools and was 
never late or absent a day in his life. After he was gradu- 
ated from the University of Michigan and had taken his 
LL.B. at Columbia, he was admitted to the bar, and pres- 
ently emerged, at the age of thirty-three, as a fighting pros- 
ecutor and the terror of the underworld. 

Obviously all this is in the most acceptable tradition — 
the saga of a more virile and melodious Coolidge, without 
the snobbish taint of Amherst or the sad comedy of the 
electric horse. Fortunate as he was in this personal back- 
ground, however, he was even more fortunate in the times 
that produced him. Whatever else it accomplished, prohibi- 
tion got the world ready for the coming of Dewey. The in- 
tense melodrama of the twenties accustomed people to the 
idea of an aristocracy of crime, to a superheated vision of 


St. George and the Dragnet 141 

America ruled by an outlaw nobility of vast and incal- 
culable powers. Beer barons and vice lords were a dime a 
dozen; almost every thug was at least a king. In New York, 
there were kings of vice, poultry, dope, fur, policy, and 
artichokes, to mention a few, and each of them com- 
manded a band of desperadoes capable of dealing with 
the United States Marines. It was wonderful. Even more 
wonderful were the names that some of these monsters and 
their mates obligingly bore. In addition to such celebrated 
figures as Lucky, Waxey, Dixie, Legs, and Lepke, there 
were Spasm Ison, Cokey Flo Brown, Stone-Faced Peggy, 
Jenny the Factory, Crazy Moe, Abadaba, Gashouse Lil, 
Six-Bits, and Blue Jaw Magoon. 

From almost the beginning of his political career, Dewey 
tangled with this demoniac royalty, and he made the most 
of it. If the voters were already inclined to believe that they 
were taking part in a moving picture, he did little to disillu- 
sion them. His private and public conversation always em- 
phasized the menace of the underworld, omnipresent, al- 
most omnipotent, crouched for a leap. "What do you know 
about the Unione Siciliana?" he asked a startled inter- 
viewer, and when it turned out that the man knew almost 
nothing, he described the fate of a prominent writer who 
offered to sell Liberty a story about its machinations and 
was shot down like a dog for his pains. "Never been in the 
papers!" whispered the District Attorney, rolling his eyes 
wildly. "No indictment. A terrific business! If you had seen 
men blanch as I have at its mere mention — its mere mention 
— you would know what terror it holds." He was no less 
alarming when addressing millions. "He has a Japanese 
butler," he said over the radio, referring to the king of 
something or other, "who — serves — him — well." He has 
prosecuted few cases in which he was unable to suggest 
that there were nameless forces at work, and this has some- 


times irritated his critics. "No matter if it was only rolling a 
lush/' said one of them in his homely way, "Dewey could 
always make it look wonderful on the record." 

While there are many things in favor of the District At- 
torney, almost an equal number oppose him. Physically, he 
is not majestic, or even especially bizarre, which is probably 
the next best bet. He is Rve feet eight and a half inches 
tall and he weighs a hundred and fifty-seven pounds 
stripped. His teeth, with centre gaps in both the upper and 
lower sets, are his most unfortunate feature; his eyes, next 
to the mustache and the voice, his most arresting. These 
are brown, with small irises surrounded by a relatively im- 
mense area of white, and Dewey has a habit of rotating 
them furiously to punctuate and emphasize his speech, ex- 
pressing horror and surprise by shooting them upward, 
cunning by sliding them from side to side behind narrowed 
lids. At climactic moments, he can pop them, almost audi- 
bly. Lloyd Paul Stryker, who has had less occasion to ad- 
mire them than most, says that they are the only piercing 
brown eyes he has ever seen. 

Dewey has a jutting jaw, high cheekbones, a slightly 
bulbous nose, and thick eyebrows. His face, on the whole, 
has a compressed appearance, as though someone had 
squeezed his head in a vise. His suits are custom-made but 
uninteresting, and always seem a little too tight for him, 
although the Merchant Tailors and Designers Association 
of America chose him this year as one of the twenty-five 
best-dressed men in America. Altogether — smallish, neat, 
and dark — he looks like a Wall Street clerk on his way to 
work; unlike the late and magnificent Harding, he is a hard 
man to imagine in a toga. 

Dewey is also unfortunate in the fact that people too 
close to him are usually either entertained by his super- 

St. George and the Dragnet 143 

cinema technique or else irritated by his proud, peculiar 
ways. One crisp hostess has said, "You have to know Mr. 
Dewey very well in order to dislike him," and the report- 
ers in the Criminal Courts Building usually speak of him 
lightly as The Boy Scout or, more simply, just The Boy. 
One man, who frequently boycotts Dewey's press confer- 
ences for ten days at a stretch, explains his absence airily. 
"You got to rap The Boy on the knuckles once in a while," 
he says. 

Lawyers, politicians, and others whose careers are di- 
rectly affected by Dewey's activities are apt to be more 
portentous. An attorney for the Civil Liberties Union has 
compared him with Mayor Hague, though conceding 
Dewey a good deal more class, and a Republican leader, 
noting the candidate's petulant behavior at a Party dinner, 
observed gloomily to Mr. Kenneth Simpson that they 
seemed to have a problem child on their hands. He has been 
accused of bullying hostile witnesses and coddling fa- 
vorable ones, demanding exorbitant bail, wire-tapping, con- 
doning the use of perjured testimony, and even ( in the case 
of Dixie Davis, who was allowed to leave the Tombs some 
eighty or ninety times in the course of three months to go 
up to a lady's apartment and change his shirt ) of conniving 
at adultery. In this case, Dewey's answer was frank, if not 
precisely responsive or even in the best possible taste. 
"Well, gentlemen," he told the jury, "if Davis did not have 
. . . desires, he wouldn't be human . . ." 

Some hecklers even go to the length of complaining that 
the leading contributors to the Dewey campaign fund rep- 
resent more wealth and special interest than seem quite 
consistent with his notorious enthusiasm for the under- 
privileged. Among these well-heeled angels are, it is 
claimed, Ruth Hanna McCormick Simms, a President- 
maker by inheritance and a Dewey Cabinet member by 


inclination; John Foster Dulles, a senior partner in the law 
firm of Sullivan & Cromwell, counsel to some of the biggest 
corporations in the country, including the North American 
Company, International Nickel, and Brown Brothers Harri- 
man (Mr. Dulles might turn up as Secretary of State); 
Roger W. Straus, vice-chairman of the board of the Ameri- 
can Smelting & Refining Company, who might land an am- 
bassadorship; Artemus L. Gates, president of the New York 
Trust Company; S. Sloan Colt, president of the Bankers 
Trust Company; Robert H. Thayer, who has Standard Oil 
connections; and Francis Dwight Bartow, vice-president of 
J. P. Morgan & Co. Up to now, it is estimated that they 
have been largely responsible for raising between $250,000 
and $300,000 for private Pullman cars, publicity, rental on 
campaign headquarters, and all the other expenses neces- 
sary in presenting a candidate appetizingly to the public. 

Dewey's most serious handicap, however, is the fact that 
he was born as recently as March 24, 1902. It is difficult for 
a great many people to think seriously of a candidate who 
was sixteen years old at the end of the World War, ten when 
the Titanic went down, six when William Howard Taft en- 
tered the White House, and thirty-one before he could 
buy a drink legally at any bar in the United States. If he 
happened to be elected, Dewey, of course, would be the 
youngest President in history, four years younger than 
Theodore Roosevelt, thirty years younger than William 
Henry Harrison, and about sixteen years below the average 
age of his predecessors at the time of their inauguration. 
Mrs. Dewey, who will be thirty-eight on February 7, 1941, 
would not, however, be the youngest First Lady — Dolly 
Madison was thirty-six when she entered the White House 
and Mrs. Cleveland was a tot of twenty- two. 

Critics, in an attempt to make these cold figures a little 
more picturesque, have pointed out that he is only eight 

St. George and the Dragnet 145 

months older than Lucius Beebe, the fashionable pam- 
phleteer, and seven weeks younger than Colonel Charles A. 
Lindbergh, the aviator — two national phenomena who, al- 
though of almost equal prominence, are not generally re- 
garded as quite ready for the Presidency. Dewey's detrac- 
tors also like to quote Secretary Ickes' comment that the 
District Attorney of New York had finally thrown his 
diaper in the ring. 

Beyond a slight and comprehensible annoyance, it is 
doubtful if the candidate pays much attention to these 
brickbats. Nobody believes that Thomas E. Dewey is better 
qualified to be President of the United States than 
Thomas E. Dewey. Last fall many Republican heavy- 
weights were asked to sign a resolution which read in 

Convinced that he possesses above all other leaders in the country 
today the ability, temperament, training and ideals which the next 
President of the United States must have, we have determined to co- 
operate in the movement to elect Thomas E. Dewey President in 


This movement has in every sense originated with the people them- 
selves. Mr. Dewey's record has inspired new efforts on behalf of good 
government throughout the country. It has evoked a spontaneous de- 
mand everywhere for his election to the Presidency. In him the people 
see a new hope for a better America. 

He has experienced judgment on public questions. He has vigor, 
executive ability, sincerity and devotion to duty. All these qualities 
have been proved by exceptional performance in the public service. 

New York will be a pivotal state in the 1940 national elections. We 
are convinced Mr. Dewey will carry not only New York but also the 
country at large next year against any opponent. . . . We extend to 
all citizens a cordial invitation to join us. 


According to the best authorities, this document was not 
only circulated by the candidate, who would whip it out 
of his pocket like an automatic when he had his victim 
cornered, but was also written by the man of experienced 
judgment himself. 

This version, picturing Mr. Dewey drafting himself al- 
most singlehanded, differs a little from the District Attor- 
ney's own account of what went on. Shortly after his de- 
feat by Governor Lehman, he says, "they" began to badger 
him to run for the Presidency. Dr. Gallup made a few 
soundings and discovered that he was far ahead of all 
other Republican Presidential possibilities. "It looks like I'm 
in for it," Dewey recalls saying to himself rather ruefully 
at the time. "If that many people want me elected, it is my 
duty to give them a chance/' He held out for a while, but 
when the procession of supplicants began to clog the halls 
of his office, he saw that it was no good; he shouldered the 

The cold fact seems to be that Dewey became the nomi- 
nal choice of the New York Republican Party for one of 
those reasons which make practical politics such a fascinat- 
ing study for the layman. For years the New York delega- 
tion had gone to the national convention with its members 
hopelessly split, some favoring this man, some that. Last 
year the better minds decided that this was all nonsense 
and that it would be a good idea if everybody went to 
Philadelphia agreed on one man. Then, if he didn't go over 
on the first couple of ballots, the state chairman would be in 
a position to handle his delegation as a solid block in fur- 
ther negotiations. What happened, it seems, was that the 
dummy candidate decided to run in earnest, on a fine, ex- 
pansive scale worthy of William Jennings Bryan. "We 
drafted this monkey," says one humble worker in the vine- 
yard, "and, by Jesus, he took it serious." 

St. George and the Dragnet 147 

This would not be a particularly alarming situation for 
the New York strategists if the primaries in other states 
hadn't made it clear that a good many romantic citizens 
were also inclined to take Dewey serious — so many, in fact, 
that at the moment it is quite possible that he will go to 
Philadelphia so firmly established as the People's Candidate 
that the boys in the back room, who would almost prefer to 
run Mr. Beebe, will have to climb on the band wagon. 
Incidentally, they will not be able to tempt him with the 
lesser role of the Vice-Presidency. Dewey says emphatically 
that he is not interested in anything but the White House, 
explaining to one interviewer that it would be impossible 
for him to live suitably in Washington on $15,000 a year. 
"I can't afford it," he said. "It costs money to be a Vice* 

What Dewey would be like in the White House can only 
be deduced rather arbitrarily from his history up to now. 
His early life in Owosso, as previously noted, was suitable 
but dull, and so were his years in college, where he won 
singing and debating contests, got an adequate B grade in 
his studies, but was on the whole practically indistinguish- 
able from his contemporaries. Dewey's actual career, it 
might be said, dates from the summer of 1925, when, on a 
bicycle tour of France, he decided to grow a mustache. It 
turned out to be a dream — bushy, dramatic, an italicized 
swearword in a dull sentence. From then on, things began 
to happen. Later that year, he went to work prosaically for 
a law firm in New York, but he rose rapidly and by 1931, 
when he was twenty-nine, he was earning $8,000 a year. 
Furthermore, according to Rupert Hughes, whose biogra- 
phy of Dewey compares very favorably with some of Al- 
bert Payson Terhune's hymns to the collie, he "was han- 
dling most of the litigation in his office." This statement is 


rather crossly denied by fellow-employees of the period, 
but there may be prejudice here, and anyway he was doing 
all right. 

The big break, however, came when he served on a case 
with George Z. Medalie and impressed him so vehemently 
that when Medalie took the post of United States Attorney 
for the Southern District of New York, he offered Dewey a 
job at a salary around $3,500 as one of the sixty assistants 
on his staff. Dewey, whose indifference to money is such 
that he can remember offhand how much he was making at 
any given day in his life, even for singing in choirs, politely 
declined that, as well as a subsequent bid of $6,000. He 
finally accepted only when Medalie had raised the ante to 
$7,500 and the position to that of chief assistant. 

In the two years and nine months that followed, the 
United States Attorney's office successfully prosecuted 
such middle-sized kings of the underworld as Legs Dia- 
mond and Waxey Gordon, and a lot of minor nobility, in- 
cluding James Quinlivan, a vice cop whose moral fervor 
had netted him $80,000 in three years, and James J. (Cu- 
pid) McCormick, the clerk in charge of the Marriage Li- 
cense Bureau, where, it seems, the pickings were also very 

In 1933, Medalie resigned and for five weeks, until 
Martin Conboy succeeded him, Dewey was in charge of the 
office. During this period the newspapers casually referred 
to him as the Acting United States Attorney, a title to which 
Dewey objected vigorously. In a letter to the editors, he 
advised them that they'd better omit the word "Acting," 
and they did, so, when he went into private practice a 
month later, he was able to call himself a former United 
States Attorney. Once again, Dewey had made something 
look good on the record. 

Dewey says he was immensely successful in private prac- 

St. George and the Dragnet 149 

tice, estimating the take at between $50,000 and $75,000 
a year, a figure which even his best friends consider im- 
aginative. Except for this financial item, nothing much 
developed in the eighteen months he worked for himself, 
although they marked his first encounter with Lepke, a 
genuine crowned head, and his satanic prime minister, 
Gurrah. In this case the victory seems to have lain with the 
forces of evil, since the baking company which had em- 
ployed Dewey to straighten out its labor difficulties was 
still paying tribute to Lepke and Gurrah when he retired. 
Talking of this now, the candidate pops his eyes and says, 
"Isn't it awful? They were so scared, they were even afraid 
to tell me." 

The next step up the ladder, and a big one, was his ap- 
pointment as Special Prosecutor, which came about in 
July, 1935, after the grand jury had finally broken with Dis- 
trict Attorney William C. Dodge and asked Governor Leh- 
man to appoint somebody to investigate racketeering and 
vice in New York. At the instigation of Medalie, who by 
this time regarded his protege as one of the fanciest blood- 
hounds in the business, the Governor chose Dewey, though 
not before four other prospects had refused the job. His 
salary, which he set himself, was $16,695, the same as the 
District Attorney's. The expenses of his office, during the 
years 1935, 1936, and 1937, were $793,502.92, of which 
$117,994.63 came under the useful heading of "contin- 

Dewey established his first offices in the Woolworth 
Building, where he set up elaborate defences against the 
hosts of darkness, including a twenty-four-hour police 
guard inside the building, secret entrances, and a special 
untappable cable connected directly with the main office 
of the Telephone Company. After examining some four 
thousand applicants, he picked four chief assistants, sixteen 


assistants, ten accountants, and nine investigators. Then, 
with the Governor and the Mayor, he called on the public 
to come forward with information on racketeering, assuring 
witnesses of protection. The first, and rather discouraging, 
fish to fall into this net was a nineteen-year-old boy whom 
Dewey's agents caught breaking windows, but soon the big 
ones began to come along. 

The biggest unquestionably was Lucky Luciano, who, in 
the eyes of casual newspaper readers, soon came to bear 
the same relation to organized prostitution that the late 
John D. Rockefeller once bore to petroleum. Luciano's 
tentacles were everywhere, his income was fabulous, there 
wasn't a sporting lady in New York who didn't shiver in her 
chemise at the mention of his name. Rupert Hughes, giv- 
ing a little shudder himself, called him "the deadliest and 
most evil genius in the whole country." 

There are those, even among his enemies, who claim that 
Luciano never got a dollar from prostitution in his life, and 
it is known that he was doing nothing more deadly than 
making book at Saratoga when he was surprised to learn 
that Dewey had crowned him King of Vice. Nevertheless, 
sex being what it is, the trial was a tremendous artistic suc- 
cess. In addition to revealing the gay and provocative 
names which most of the girls had thought up for them- 
selves, the testimony was gratifyingly explicit and gave 
the public a good working picture of the technical structure 
of a pretty complicated business. A lot of the entertain- 
ment also lay in the relations between Mr. Dewey and his 
staff and the witnesses who eventually won the case for the 
prosecution. From the beginning, the young women were 
treated with exceptional tenderness and chivalry, even 
though one of the investigators persisted in wearing gloves 
throughout the trial and several of them were rather ungal- 
lantly mystified when their clients insisted they were vir- 

St. George and the Dragnet 151 

gins. As the girls began to come through with the right kind 
of testimony, they were shown even more consideration. 
They were set up in apartments and hotels around town, 
given spending money, taken to the movies, on shopping 
trips, out to cocktails, and even to night clubs. This last 
practice, however, fell into disrepute when one of them, in 
the company of an assistant prosecutor, was observed by 
the opposition having a fine, though somewhat incoherent, 
time at Leon & Eddie's on Fifty-second Street. This incident 
went on the record, where it did not look good at all. 

It was after the trial, though, that the prosecutor really 
showed that his heart was in the right place. In order to 
protect them from the vengeance of any possible surviving 
vice kings, two of the girls were given a trip abroad, spend- 
ing four months in England and France with all expenses 
paid. Two others took a studio in New Rochelle and got 
$50 a week each for ten weeks while a writer from Liberty 
interviewed them. They also got $500 bonuses. With this 
money, the ladies bought a car and went to California, 
where they opened a filling station, whimsically christening 
it The Rooster. Contented letters came back to the prose- 
cutor's office, reporting that business was fine. "We're sell- 
ing more gas already than the other two stations near us," 
wrote one of the partners. "Regards to Mr. Dewey." 

While the money kept coming in, everything was lovely 
between these far-flung witnesses and Uncle Dee, which 
was their pet name for the scourge of the underworld. When 
it stopped, however, and the Dewey office was unable to 
help Liberty sell their life stories to Warner Brothers for a 
movie, the girls began to get rough. In the middle of 
March, 1937, Luciano filed a motion for a new trial with 
affidavits from Nancy Presser, Mildred Harris Balitzer, and 
Cokey Flo Brown, in which they repudiated their previous 
testimony. Miss Presser said that she had spent most of her 


time in the prosecutor's office drinking liquor and listening 
to people shouting that they "had to get Lucky." Miss 
Brown went even further. Her testimony against Luciano 
was all made up, she said. Why, she had never laid eyes on 
the man in her life. 

In spite of the fact that the motion for a new trial was 
denied, this ingratitude was discouraging, and so was the 
common report that most of the ladies had gone back to 
their regular work as soon as the heat was off. Mr. Hughes, 
it is true, wrote that one of them had "become a blooming 
bride after a year of hard work and clean living," but less 
roseate authorities were pessimistic. In fact, Samual Mar- 
cus, counsel for the Society for the Prevention of Crime, 
was able to dig up Stone-Faced Peggy at an address on 
West End Avenue, where, with six assistants, she was es- 
tablished in a penthouse from which she was sending out 
cards to her old clients, announcing the arrival of "the 
latest fall neckware." This enterprise, according to Mr. 
Marcus, was partially financed with money Peggy earned 
as a Dewey witness. 

The rest of Dewey's term as Special Prosecutor never 
rose to the dramatic level of the Luciano trial. Restaurant, 
poultry, and baking empires were overthrown, but, gen- 
erally speaking, it was dry stuff, with no sex appeal and not 
much gunfire. It was not until December 31, 1937, when 
Dewey took office as District Attorney, that the fun began 
again. Richard Whitney, Jimmy Hines, Fritz Kuhn, and 
Lepke were all men of substance in one way or another, and 
lent themselves well to florid treatment both by Dewey 
and the newspapers. 

The Hines case — the only one, incidentally, which the 
District Attorney prosecuted in person — was probably the 
best, with its rumors of bodies done up in concrete and 
sunk forever in the East River; its suggestion, always agree- 

St. George and the Dragnet 153 

able to the public, that every member of Tammany Hall is 
on the payroll of the underworld; and its remarkable cast 
of characters, including the beautiful Hope Dare, who 
handled Dixie Davis's laundry, and the fantastic Abadaba, 
who could do quadratic equations in his head. 

In this case, too, Dewey was conspicuously gentle with 
the witnesses for the People. Not only was Davis permitted 
to leave his cell and go visiting whenever he felt like it, but 
later, when the first effort ended in a mistrial, he and two 
other witnesses, George Weinberg and Harry Schoenhaus, 
were removed from the Tombs — they had been complaining 
about the heat — and shipped out to a country club on 
Long Island, where they learned to play badminton. When 
that got tiresome, the District Attorney fixed them up with 
a private house in White Plains. It was here that Weinberg 
ungratefully shot himself with a cop's gun, to the irritation 
of the owner of the property, who claimed it had a bad ef- 
fect on real-estate values. 

For everybody except Weinberg, who was dead, and 
Hines, who got from four to eight years, the case ended 
happily. Davis was given a year, but the sentence was short- 
ened on the ground that he had theoretically served half of 
it while held as a witness; Schoenhaus got a suspended 
sentence; and the District Attorney's office, which appar- 
ently had a persistent enthusiasm for belles-lettres, encour- 
aged Hope and Dixie to write their memoirs for Colliers. 
They got $6,300 apiece. The policy game, according to re- 
liable reports from Harlem, is still running just about the 
way it always was. 

The Whitney and Kuhn cases also had their points 
(Lepke was rather an anticlimax because of the annoying 
circumstance that the G-men got to him first), but defalca- 
tion and propaganda are never as interesting as vice and 
gambling, and relatively they attracted less attention. 


Dewey's expenses as District Attorney from January i, 
!938, to the present have been $2,146,509.03, including 
$201,183.44 for "contingencies." 

While all this was going on, Dewey heard the call to run 
as Republican candidate for Governor in the fall of 1938. 
He devoted over a month to the campaign, but was de- 
feated by Lehman by a margin of approximately 67,000 
votes. Undeterred by the fact that he had won only one 
elective office in his life, Dewey made formal announce- 
ment on December 1, 1939, that he was a candidate for the 
Republican nomination for President of the United States. 
Since then there hasn't been much of interest happening in 
the District Attorney's office, and during the past six 
months the boss has been absent some sixty-five days, 
though still, of course, on the payroll. 

People who have watched Dewey perform in court 
sometimes wonder how the same technique would work in 
larger fields. His manner before the bench is as exasperat- 
ing as it is in private. A distinguished attorney, who suf- 
fered from it painfully in the Hines trial, says that the Dis- 
trict Attorney seems to feel that any lawyer who would 
stoop to defend a man indicted by the Dewey office must 
either be a crook himself or else corruptly allied with 
criminal interests. If a ruling is unfavorable to the People, 
Dewey will rise from his chair, slow and aghast, the blood 
mantling his neck, and cry, "Do you mean to say that the 
Court will not allow the District Attorney of New York 
County," etc., etc. During the first Hines trial, while the 
policy broker Spasm Ison was on the stand, Dewey sat 
slumped in his chair, pretending to read a Harlem dream 
book. Occasionally, without rising, he would drawl, "I 
think 111 object to that," and once, to Justice Pecora's in- 

St. George and the Dragnet 155 

dignation, he varied this formula. "I suppose it won't do 
any good," he said wearily, "but I think I'll object." 

It is also part of his system to make the jurors feel that 
they are part of the prosecution, not a difficult feat with a 
blue-ribbon jury, which usually imagines that it has been 
divinely appointed to convict, anyway. When opposing 
counsel scores a point, Dewey turns to the jury and beats 
his breast to let them know that the People are being cruci- 
fied. When an attorney for the defence says anything 
derogatory about him or any member of his staff, he objects 
thunderously to "this insult to the representatives of the 
People of New York," a classification, of course, including 
the jury. Sometimes, when things aren't going too well for 
his side, he is apt to stifle a yawn and saunter out of the 
courtroom for a smoke and a chat with the reporters. 

Dewey's most annoying mannerism, however, is drinking 
water. He is one of the greatest water drinkers of our time, 
estimating himself that he gets away with more than three 
quarts a day, and he has learned that it is a wonderful way 
to harass the opposition. While Stryker was examining key 
witnesses against Hines, Dewey made many leisurely trips 
to the water-cooler near the jury box, filled himself a Lily 
cup, and ambled back to his table, looking bored to the 
edge of imbecility. This finally worked on Stryker to such 
an extent that the next time Dewey got up to get a drink, 
he waved him back to his chair, poured out a cup himself, 
and carried it politely over to the prosecutor's table. There 
can be no question that The Boy has mastered the art of 
getting on people's nerves. 

After the second Hines trial, Dewey announced that he 
didn't propose to go into court again until after the elec- 
tion, but his technique is almost as effective in private life. 
His vanity is enormous, a fact of which he is aware and 


even rather proud (he once refused to appoint an otherwise 
capable man, saying seriously, "Why, he's as arrogant as I 
am"). When he was chosen to run for District Attorney on 
a ticket with LaGuardia, the Mayor suggested that it might 
he wise if he didn't have much to say to the papers until 
they had planned their campaign. "I can't do that," said 
Dewey. "My public will want to hear from me." Re- 
cently, when somebody asked him if he wasn't afraid that 
John T. Cahill's mounting reputation as a United States 
Attorney might come to eclipse his own, Dewey was reas- 
suring. "No, I don't fear that," he replied earnestly. "After 
all, the public knows there was only one Lindbergh." 

Last year, a former United States Attorney named 
Green was nominated by the Republicans to run against 
Mayor Kelly in Chicago. Green was the prosecutor who 
sent Capone to Alcatraz for income-tax evasion, and con- 
sequently he had a local reputation as a gangbuster almost 
equalling Dewey's. Since his campaign against the corrupt 
Kelly-Nash machine was based on the need for divorcing 
crime from politics, the same war whoop that Dewey had 
been finding so useful in the East, Green's backers thought 
it would be helpful if the New York prosecutor came to 
Chicago and made a speech endorsing their man. Dewey 
declined after some thought. "There's only one thing that 
would pull Green through," he said, "and that's if I went 
out there." "But if I did," he continued, "everybody would 
know what had happened. I think the people of Chicago 
would resent having me come out there and elect their 

Dewey reached his peak, though, in the reply that went 
back to Anthony Eden, who, on his trip here in December, 
1938, said that he would like to meet New York's celebrated 
crusader. The man who tried to arrange the interview got a 
brief telephone call from Dewey's office. "I have your mes- 

St. George and the Dragnet 157 

sage to Mr. Dewey," a voice said. "He has asked me to tell 
you that he will be glad to meet Mr. Eden if he will call at 
the District Attorney's office on Centre Street." 

The advent of the Deweys would certainly mean a new 
era of simplicity in official Washington society. Mrs. Dewey, 
who once sang in a road company of "George White's 
Scandals," is probably not temperamentally opposed to a 
little gaiety around the place, but lately she has grown in- 
creasingly conscious of her responsibilities as the candi- 
date's wife. Political topics are taboo with her and she is 
fairly cautious on all others, so conversation is something of 
a strain. 

Dewey himself is simply a man with no time for comedy 
or other irrelevancies. His life outside his work is a little 
like the interval between rounds in a prizefight — a period 
of rest, therapy, and reflection about what to do next. He 
gets up at the same time every day, eight-thirty, and eats 
the same breakfast. His lunch, which he usually has at his 
desk, never varies either, consisting of fruit salad, a chicken 
sandwich on white bread, milk and coffee, cheese and 
crackers. He lets himself go at dinner, but not recklessly. 
He limits himself strictly to one package of cigarettes a day 
and, since repeal, two highballs at a sitting. During prohi- 
bition he never drank or allowed alcohol in his house. If 
he was offered a drink at a party, he would smile tolerantly 
and say, "No, you go ahead and have a drink if you want 
one. That's your business. None for me." He plays penny- 
ante poker with a nickel limit, and usually wins. His chauf- 
feur, who used to have a job driving an old lady around, is 
right at home with him, because Dewey hates speed and 
objects to anything over fifty miles an hour, even in the 
open country. 

The candidate is a great man for getting his sleep and 


always bundles Mrs. Dewey up at eleven- thirty and takes 
her home, no matter what's happening. He hasn't been in- 
side a night club since his appointment as Special Prosecu- 
tor. To make up for this, the Deweys organized a private 
dancing group among their friends, hired an instructor and 
a small orchestra, and met regularly at one another's apart- 
ments for dancing parties. They did this for a season or 
two and then gave it up. It may have been too exclusive. 

Dewey is terribly down on sculpture, but he says he likes 
all the other arts and is sorry he hasn't the time to get at 
them any more. He used to go to the opera quite a lot (he 
admires Wagner especially ) and to the Sunday concerts at 
Town Hall almost every week. That's out now and so is the 
theatre. The only play he saw this season was "Ladies and 
Gentlemen," with Helen Hayes, whom he likes, though not 
as much as Ina Claire. When it comes to books, he reads 
history, biography, and mystery stories, volunteering that 
he's read just about all of Edgar Wallace. The only books 
currently visible in his office are Who's Who in America 
and "Debate Outlines on Public Questions." Dewey has 
even given up his own singing except for rare duets with his 
wife and a rich, baritone solo now and then in the bathtub, 
where he sings the Prologue to "Pagliacci," but he still gets 
to church. When interviewers ask his press secretaries how 
often he manages to get there, they say, "Not as often as 
he'd like to — about once every month or so." When they 
ask Dewey the same thing, he thinks it over for a while 
and answers, "Not as often as I'd like to — about once every 
month or so." Incidentally, while the candidate has only two 
official publicity men, at salaries of $6,500 and $5,000 a 
year, practically everyone in the office these days is co- 
operating with the Republican Party, including many of the 
Assistant District Attorneys. Considered on a man-hour 
basis, it is probable that the people of New York are spend- 

St. George and the Dragnet 159 

ing $500 a week to send their prosecutor to the White 

In winter the Deweys live in an eight-room apartment at 
Fifth Avenue and Ninety-sixth Street, which has nothing 
remarkable about it one way or another. Their elder son, 
Thomas, Jr., who is seven and a half, goes to a private 
school, although both his parents can hardly contain their 
admiration for the public-school system. John, four and a 
half, hasn't started yet. For the past three years, the family 
have been spending their summers on a 300-acre farm near 
Pawling, which Dewey bought last year. Before that they 
went to Tuxedo, until Dewey discovered that his neighbors 
led a "manicured existence/' "Between you and me," he 
says, "that Tuxedo crowd is a bunch of snobs. I want my 
children to grow up with farm children." At Pawling, 
Dewey gets up early to go riding with Lowell Thomas, 
who more or less sets the social and intellectual pace for 
the colony. After that, he has the standard breakfast and 
then plays golf, shooting around a hundred, usually with 
Carl Hogan, a Madison Avenue furniture dealer and prob- 
ably Dewey's closest friend; Kenneth C. Hogate, publisher 
of the Wall Street Journal; and Ralph Reinhold, publisher 
of an architectural magazine called Pencil Points. He plays 
earnestly, watching his opponents like a hawk so they won't 
try to chisel on their scores. Sometimes he plays softball 
with Thomas's Nine Old Men. He used to pitch, but he al- 
ways tried to strike out the batter, and, as the game is 
played mostly for fun, they shifted him to second base. 
There is quite a lot of visiting around at Pawling, but no 
cocktail parties or other rough stuff. Altogether, it is a sim- 
ple, earnest, and healthy way of life. How it would look to 
the British Ambassador or someone like Mrs. Longworth, 
there is no way of telling. 


Dewey's speeches have been described as the best that 
money can buy, and they are delivered in a voice that even 
Mr. Stryker has been obliged to admit is "quite an organ," 
but up to now nobody seems exactly sure what he has been 
talking about. Generally speaking, he is apparently for 
everything that's good and against everything that's bad, 
which naturally includes most of the activities of the ad- 
ministration. In spite of this vagueness — Raymond Clap- 
per has written in the World-Telegram that most of the 
Dewey policies are about as mysterious as love — his cam- 
paign has been an astonishing success. As a candidate, if 
you care to listen to his admirers, he is a cinch for the 
White House. They see him as America in microcosm — the 
small-town boy who demonstrated to the people not only 
that the cities were as wicked as they had dreamed but also 
that wickedness is helpless when confronted with rustic 
purity. He is the hope of the world, the Plumed Gang- 
Buster. Berton Braley, a poet who once accompanied the 
Ford Peace Ship to write odes to Mr. Ford, has summed the 
District Attorney up lyrically: 

Let Dewey do it! And Dewey did. 
Dewey's "magic" was simply that 
He did the job he was working at! 
But do we duly do honor to 
The work of Dewey? We do! We do! 

To his critics, this picture seems a little too rapturous. 
Some have complained that a man who spends a good part 
of his first year in office running for Governor and even 
more of his second and third running for President can't 
exactly be described as doing the job he is working at. 
Robert Moses, a forthright man, said frigidly that it seemed 
to him Mr. Dewey had "no manifest experience or probable 

St. George and the Dragnet 161 

qualification for the job," and Mayor LaGuardia, returning 
thoughtfully from a visit to "Abe Lincoln in Illinois/' dis- 
missed all the current Republican aspirants with the word 
"phooey." The Arab in William Saroyan's play called "The 
Time of Your Life" probably came closest to getting at 
what a good many people have been trying to say about 
the Boy from Owosso in his reiterated refrain: "No founda- 
tion. . . . No foundation. . . . All the way down the line." 

One with Nineveh 

One recent Sunday afternoon, following a well-blazed 
trail, I went over to Weehawken, New Jersey, for cocktails 
with Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg, whose private car 
was moored there on Track 1 in the New York Central 
yards. A strange excursion for a Sunday afternoon — strange 
for my wife and me, to whom Mr. Beebe and, to a lesser 
extent, Mr. Clegg are memoranda from the remote and 
jocular past; strange indeed for our sixteen-year-old daugh- 
ter, who has seen few millionaires in the flesh, and none 
ever on a siding. 

"Just who is this Mr. Beebe?" she asked as we sped in the 
taxi from Eighty-second Street to the foot of Forty-second, 
where the ferry Utica lay. 

"A friend," I replied. "A fashion plate. A sport." 

"You and your friends," she said with habitual derision, 
but pressed the point no further. My answer was a poor 
one, though, and I am trying now to amplify it in my mind. 

It was, I find on reference to Who's Who, in 1929 that 
Mr. Beebe first swam hugely into the life of this metropolis. 
He was twenty-seven then, and his career already had cer- 
tain legendary aspects. He had attended Yale but, proving 
too vivacious for the faculty, had moved on to Harvard, 
where he was graduated, though not without some official 
misgivings, as a Bachelor of Arts. His bent, in the under- 


One with Nineveh 163 

graduate years, was poetic, and he had issued feuilletons 
on Villon and Edwin Arlington Robinson. He also wrote 
verse of his own, and, for some inscrutable reason, a frag- 
ment that won the Richard Memorial Prize at Yale in 
1923 is still in my possession. The first and final stanzas will 

I am weary of these times and their dull burden, 
Sweating and laboring in the summer noontide, 

And the hot stench of inland forges 
Sickens my nostrils. 

Soon there will be no more metals to plunder, 

There will be no more forests to slash and dismember, 

Then, O chosen people, nation of fortune, 
Where is thy glory? 

This poem, I am in a position to add, was reviewed, in 
question-and-answer form, in the Yale Daily News: 

Q. What is the theme? 

A. Defeat, foreseen or expected, lying in wait for American ma- 

Q. What does the author indicate will remain after said defeat? 
A. Nothing. 

Other and less spiritual tidings preceded the youthful 
Beebe into town. At Yale, it was his merry custom, on re- 
turning from weekends in New York, to attend his first 
Monday-morning class in full evening dress, wearing a 
monocle and carrying a gold-headed cane, and the News, 
stunned by such gloss in a contemporary, reported that 
"two hemispheres knew him at nineteen." At Harvard, his 
room contained a roulette wheel and a bar equipped to 


make any drink a guest could name. His departure from 
New Haven was partly the result of his appearance in a 
stage box at the Hyperion Theatre extravagantly bearded 
and brandishing a bottle and shouting that he was Profes- 
sor Henry Hallam Tweedy, of the Divinity School. His stay 
at Harvard was enlivened by his circulation of a ballot to 
determine how the college stood on trading President 
Lowell and three full professors for a good running back- 
field. These exploits and several like them, being so accu- 
rately part of the climate of a peculiar time, were widely 
reported in the press, and Mr. Beebe showed up in this 
parish trailing, if not clouds of glory, at least a certain 
antique and fashionable radiance. 

Reading over what I have written, I can see that it will 
convey little to young and sober readers, who almost surely 
have no idea how whimsically celebrity was come by in 
the twenties. The New York chapter of the saga, I'm afraid, 
will be hardly more illuminating. I remember I thought 
about that as the Utica cleared her slip and, lurching and 
clanking, set out for the western bank. The cabin of the 
ferry was a good place to think about the past, since, ex- 
cept for the advertisements on the wall, it differed little 
from those in the old sidewheelers that used to take me to 
and from Palisades Park. The ladies in my party, assailed by 
many searching aromas ( less vehement, however, than those 
diffused by the horses of my youth) and highly suspicious 
of a craft with a propeller at each end, behaved rather 
badly on the seven-minute passage, but my own mind was 
calm and clear. I am soothed by anachronisms, being, I 
suppose, so nearly one myself. 

To the best of my recollection, I met Mr. Beebe first dur- 
ing the winter of 1931. It was in one of the speakeasies 

One with Nineveh 165 

that then contained so much of our social life, and I re- 
member him, immense, pink, and menacingly groomed, 
standing at the bar and booming out a denunciation of the 
Newspaper Guild, which he appeared to regard as a branch 
of the Maffia. Additional jocosities had already collected 
around him. His salary as a reporter on the Tribune was, I 
think, only thirty-five dollars a week, but his private means 
were boundless and his wardrobe consisted of no fewer 
than forty suits, none, of course, duplicating another. It 
was rumored that he had once gone out to report a negli- 
gible fire in a morning coat, and a tedious dinner of the 
Landscape Gardening Society in top hat and tails. His 
jewelry, according to further material in my files, included 
three gold cigarette cases, valued at approximately seven 
hundred dollars each; a Kashmir sapphire cabochon ring, 
at twelve hundred dollars; a single emerald stud worth five 
hundred dollars; and a platinum evening watch that cost 
a thousand. His attitude, in general, was that a decent re- 
spect for the profession of journalism demanded all these 
accessories. "I wear formal clothes, morning or evening, 
whenever they are called for," he was quoted as saying at 
the time, "and regard them quite literally as the livery of my 
business. As a reporter for the Tribune, I would no more 
think of entering a restaurant in the evening out of dinner 
dress than I would in swimming shorts." 

In spite of this almost sanctified approach, he was, I'm 
afraid, never much of a reporter. For one thing, the out- 
rageous majesty of his appearance was often too much for 
the people he was dispatched to interview, many of whom 
suspected him of being an elaborate practical joke on the 
part of the Tribune's management and clammed up ac- 
cordingly. For another, he had little interest in the small 
triumphs and disasters that constitute the bulk of each 


day's news, and he wrote about them with blank distaste 
and only a perfunctory attention to the spelling of the 

The Tribune soon discovered that an error had been 
made, and the young man was transferred to the drama 
department, where he lingered long enough to describe 
Hollywood as "the outhouse of civilization" and the men 
and women of the theatre, with a few icily cultivated excep- 
tions, as "preposterous bores and mountebanks." It was not 
a successful experiment. In June, 1934, however, he came at 
last to what must have seemed the goal of his dreams. This 
was his appointment to conduct a weekly department 
called "This New York." In essence, it was a gossip column, 
but it was different from any seen before or since. Unlike 
Winchell, Walker, Sullivan, or Lyons, Mr. Beebe was not 
concerned with the gritty amours of midtown Manhattan, 
the ineligible suburbs, or the unspeakable cities of the 
plain. He had no political convictions, except perhaps that 
all politics are vile, and he was not impressed with the usual 
objects of public veneration, having other and far more ele- 
vated standards of his own. The particular charm of his 
work lay in the rigid boundaries of its subject matter. "This 
New York" was concerned exclusively with the goings on of 
a group of people making up something known as Cafe So- 
ciety, and Mr. Beebe's requirements for membership were 
stern. "A general definition of Cafe Society," he wrote, 
"might be : an unorganized but generally recognized group 
of persons who participate in the professional and social 
life of New York available to those possessed of a certain 
degree of affluence and manners." There were, he added, 
no more than five hundred men and women in all the world 
fit for the dizzy heights. 

The crumbling files yield visions of this spacious life: 

One with Nineveh 167 

Doris Duke has nine Rolls-Royces . . . M. Andre Simon of the 
Wine and Food Society ordered a bowl of spring flowers removed 
because it infringed on the bouquet of the Chateau Latour '20 . . . 
Margaret Valdi Curtis, a relative of Lord Asquith, is around town 
singing Tahitian songs in a straw skirt . . . Mrs. Graham Fair Van- 
derbilt's butler is reported to have been dismissed for saying "O.K., 
Madam" . . . Prince Kyril Scherbatoff, A. K. Mills, and this depart- 
ment discovered the other day they were wearing identical suits. 
Tony Williams is a wretch to have duplicated them on us. 


Cecil Beaton, the languid photographer of folk who count, is back 
in town from London, and bravely carrying the torch for clothes that 
set Manhattan's lorgnons a'quiver. He showed up at the Colony for 
lunch last week in a little number Lanvin had run up for him in a pale 
shade of apple green, with a darker green waistcoat, double-breasted 
and buttoned with gold and emerald links. Everyone remarked how 
fine and brave he was. 

I regret to say that I took almost no part in these festivi- 
ties, partly because I lacked the appropriate suits and 
partly because my vitality has never been intense. For this 
reason, I encountered Mr. Beebe only in the lobbies of thea- 
tres and in saloons that catered to the working classes, es- 
pecially newspapermen. His attitude in these establish- 
ments now seems to me to have been indulgent. My own is 
harder to define. I understood, that is, that Mr. Beebe was 
intended to represent a Charles Dana Gibson illustration 
for a book by Richard Harding Davis, and I was impressed 
both by the fidelity of the likeness and by the astounding 
amount of effort that had gone into producing it. The ob- 
ject of the whole charade, however, was almost completely 
inscrutable to me. 


The riddle still persisted twenty-five years later as our 
ship put in at Weehawken and I led the ladies, twittering 
like birds, out into the terminal. The car was not hard to 
find. Red as blood and yellow as scrambled eggs, it lay 
some fifty yards due west. Its name, Virginia City, was 
painted on its side, but even without that it would have 
been unmistakable in that blasted landscape. A pretty toy, 
a jewel box, a dream on wheels. Mr. Beebe himself greeted 
us from the observation platform, and I was gratified to note 
that his culture was still intact. "Welcome to Walden 
Pond!" he cried. 

It is one of the melancholy facts of human experience 
that memory is a sorry cheat. The mansions of our child- 
hood, revisited, are only houses after all; the mountains, 
hills; the rivers, little trickling brooks. The great personali- 
ties are especially diminished by this unpleasant chemistry, 
and the arrogant giants we knew are too apt to turn into 
small and querulous men. My only excuse for introducing 
this tritest of all reflections is that it was so emphatically 
not true of Mr. Beebe. He was precisely as vast and stylish 
as he had ever been, and the years, if anything, had added 
something senatorial to his aspect. The fact that he had 
grown a trifle deaf only conferred a special awful distance 
on him. I shuddered to remember that it was sometimes our 
drunken custom, late at night, in the lost and dissolute 
past, to address this monument disrespectfully as Lou or 
Beeb. "It's nice to see you again, Lucius," I said, and en- 
tered never-never land. 

The magic elegance of the interior of the Virginia City is 
beyond the descriptive powers of any journalist today, and 
Mr. Beebe, who has suffered too often from the kind of re- 
porting that attempts to conceal ignorance with levity, has 
met this problem squarely. As I write, I have beside me a 

One with Nineveh 169 

chaste pamphlet, presumably of his own composition, en- 
titled "Vital Statistics of the Private Car 'Virginia City." 5 
The simple physical facts are easy to compress. The car is 
ninety-three feet long, weighs a hundred and eighty-five 
thousand pounds, and consists of a twenty-three-foot ob- 
servation-drawing room, three master staterooms (each 
with its own toilet facilities), a small Turkish bath, a din- 
ing room seating eight, a galley with a fifty-bottle wine 
cellar, an extra seven-hundred-pound refrigerator on the 
forward platform, and crew quarters for two. Each room is 
wired for music, which comes from a mechanism that plays 
eight hours of uninterrupted tape recordings; there are 
three conventional telephones to the outside world, and a 
radio telephone for use when the proprietors are in mo- 
tion. The car can be carried at the end of any passenger 
train in the United States at a cost per trip of eighteen 
first-class fares. When it is on a siding, the daily storage 
charge is forty cents a running foot. It is capable of generat- 
ing its own electricity, heating its own water, and disposing 
of its own waste. Nothing is said about what Mr. Beebe 
and Mr. Clegg have spent on the Virginia City, but some 
estimates have set the original purchase cost at two hun- 
dred thousand dollars and the remodelling at a hundred 
and twenty-five thousand more. 

These data, though impressive, suggest little of the real 
splendor of the carriage, and for this I am obliged to turn 
to the actual phrasing of the script: 

The decor is Venetian Renaissance evolved by the Doges of Venice 
when that country became the richest cultural nation in the world, a 
decor which was copied in the following centuries by the leading 
crowned heads of Europe for their palaces, a fine example being the 
hall of mirrors in the Palace at Versailles. 

Mr. [Robert] Hanley made a trip to Europe to secure authentic 


period furniture and fixtures for the car. The crystal chandeliers in the 
observation-drawing room were purchased in Venice as was the ba- 
roque gold cherub mirror over the fireplace. The dining saloon's gold 
vein diamond paned mirrors were manufactured especially for the 
car in Italy. 

Throughout the car all mouldings and decorative reliefs are of 14K 
gold leaf, the gold plated lighting fixtures are from France, and the 
rugs were especially designed for each individual room in the car, 
hand woven and shot with gold thread. 

The ceiling murals were copied from those in the Sistine Chapel in 
Rome and the paintings on the upper berths in the three master state- 
rooms are scenes of the famed Virginia and Truckee Railway which 
once ran to Virginia City, Nevada, after which the car is named. 

I can think of nothing to add to this except that the 
artificial logs in the fireplace, fed with propane gas, really 
burn, though decorously, and that the apparel of the pro- 
prietors is worthy of its surroundings. It is not Venetian, 
but it is the work of patient hands and also liberally shot 
with gold, Mr. Clegg's watch chain, composed of matching 
nuggets, being especially rich and strange. In addition to 
Mr. Beebe and Mr. Clegg, the premises are occupied by a 
chef, a steward, and an enormous St. Bernard, weighing a 
hundred and eighty-five pounds. The total weight of all the 
inmates (Mr. Beebe, two hundred and ten; Mr. Clegg, a 
hundred and eighty; their two employees, perhaps a hun- 
dred and seventy-five apiece; and the dog, as noted) is thus 
in the neighborhood of half a ton. Unaccustomed to such 
splendors, my daughter, still barely poised on the threshold 
of womanhood, could only murmur, "Wow!" My wife, how- 
ever, though a registered Democrat, was nearly beside her- 
self with rapture and stated that she'd like to live there all 
her life. 

The talk that afternoon, I'm afraid, was hardly up to its 

One with Nineveh 171 

jewelled setting. Our hosts were on vacation from Nevada, 
where they conduct a weekly newspaper, and the conversa- 
tion dwelt largely on that. This was entertaining in a way, 
because, just as he did so long ago in New York, Mr. Beebe 
is intent on imposing an older and more jovial system of 
manners on a community not always quite sure what is ex- 
pected of it, and even occasionally hostile. In his fond im- 
agination, everyone in that part of Nevada greets the rising 
sun with two ounces of bourbon and ends the day pros- 
trate on a barroom floor, and gamblers, prostitutes, and 
quaint survivals of the roaring past disport themselves 
with terrible enthusiasm. The paper reports this gaiety con- 
scientiously, and some measure of its success may be gath- 
ered from the fact that it has picked up the largest weekly 
circulation west of the Mississippi and about five hundred 
and eighty-five thousand dollars' worth of impending law- 
suits of one kind and another. 

My own tales of the society our hosts had abandoned 
were in a melancholy minor key. Many of our common ac- 
quaintances had died, some picturesquely but more just 
sorrowfully withering away, unwanted strangers in a new 
and vulgar world. Others were visibly ailing and could 
hardly hope to see another spring; still others, like me, had 
married and produced hostages and lived lives hard to 
contemplate without a kind of wry hilarity. One of the 
brightest spirits we had ever known was in jail, having 
written too many facetious checks. 

Mr. Beebe listened sombrely to all this intelligence. 
"Change and decay," he said. "What are you drinking?" 

"Ginger ale," I said with embarrassment, because I had 
hoped to conceal this humiliating circumstance. 

"My God!" he said. "You sick?" 

Breeding, however, overcame his horror, and in the end 
I got the ginger ale. Mr. Beebe himself was drinking Mar- 


tinis. To my astonishment, they came out of a bottle — a 
trade preparation, already mixed. "You like that stuff?" 
I asked as he was poured another. 

"Not particularly," he said. It developed that gin struck 
him as faintly disgusting, however served, and he saw no 
point in making a witches' brew of his own when industry 
was prepared to do it for him. He was drinking it now, I 
gathered, as a concession to barbaric Eastern tastes. My 
wife is still innocently convinced that there are degrees of 
merit in Martinis, and I could see that she was not favora- 
bly impressed with this ultimate sophistication. 

Conversationally, as IVe said, the gathering never really 
got off the ground. Mr. Beebe and I were, I think, glad to 
see each other again, but our paths had been too far 
apart. I had a feeling that we were characters in two wildly 
differing comic strips — his infinitely more colorful and ven- 
turesome, mine perhaps a shade more closely related to 
usual mortal experience. There could be little real com- 
munication between a man who clearly regarded his pres- 
ence in a golden coach on a private siding as a lull be- 
tween adventures and one who had undertaken a short ride 
on a ferry only with the deepest misgivings. 

We were diverted momentarily by the entrance of the 
dog, whose name is T-Bone Towser. He is the biggest dog 
I have ever seen, and, like everything else about the 
Virginia City, he is somewhat top-heavy with publicity, 
being, among other things, equipped with a special brandy 
cask obtainable only at Abercrombie & Fitch. The ladies 
professed themselves enchanted with him, and in a meas- 
ure I was, too, though I was not entirely convinced by 
Mr. Beebe's assurances that he was as gentle as a lamb. His 
gaze, when it rested on me, was hooded and speculative, 
and it occurred to me that he was simply biding his time. I 

One with Nineveh 173 

was vaguely relieved when Mr. Clegg took him out for a 

So our visit wore away. There was a strange peace about 
it. Enclosed in the golden box, warmed by propane and 
lulled by Ampex, surrounded by the treasures of older 
civilizations, we were wonderfully insulated from time and 
the nagging circumstances of daily life. Once, three prole- 
tarian noses were flattened against the window of the door 
leading out onto the observation platform, and Mr. Beebe 
rose and snapped down the shade. "They think we're with 
a circus," he observed genially. "The freaks, probably. It 
happens everywhere we go." 

We left shortly after that. Aboard the Utica again, with 
the lights of Weehawken diminishing behind, I found that 
my thoughts were rather tedious and ornate, having to do 
with Mr. Beebe and his symbolic presence on a siding — 
and with the presence, by extension, of all my contempo- 
raries on sidings of one kind and another. My companions, 
however, were troubled by no such immensities. They had 
had a wonderful time. They had been cheered by the vision 
of an almost incredibly jaunty past, and they had also, I 
could see, placed me firmly in the middle of it, a battered 
survivor of God knows what bygone revelries. Altogether, 
it had been a singularly rewarding trip and one they were 
unlikely to forget. They only regretted that nobody had 
had the presence of mind to swipe a 14K Renaissance ash- 

Battles Distant Sound 

It was a hard week, of course, for all journalists, but prob- 
ably nobody suffered as acutely as the daily sporting and 
night-life specialists. The winter had been widely adver- 
tised as the gayest since 1928. There was money in the 
night clubs, where the velvet rope was seldom down; 
money in the theatre, where one exhibit had already 
opened at an eight-eighty top; money at Madison Square 
Garden, where the Louis-Baer fight had been announced 
at thirty dollars ringside; there were drunken sailors, male 
and female, loose with money in the shops; money every- 
where, money for everybody. When the dream blew up at 
Pearl Harbor, the reporters assigned to the Broadway front 
blew up with quite a bang themselves. 

Monday was a dreadful day. Lieutenant-Commander 
Walter Winchell of the Mirror, who had occasionally given 
the impression that he was going to be in personal charge 
of the war with the Axis, had nothing whatever to say 
about it when it came. The only remotely Oriental item 
in Dorothy Kilgallen's column in the Journal- American 
dealt with a girl from the mysterious East called Noel Toy, 
whose pet name for George Jean Nathan appeared to be 
"Mah Lao Doy," meaning her little pet monkey. Miss Kil- 
gallen's other intelligence was equally singular, but time- 
less; "The chap who stole the Doris Duke Cromwell art 


Battle's Distant Sound 175 

wanted the money for a nose bob" was a typical example. 
The other gossip columnists were also substantially speech- 

On the society pages, things were almost as discouraging. 
In approximately fifteen hundred words of copy, Cholly 
Knickerbocker of the Journal- American was able to devote 
only a hundred and seventy to the crisis. Most of these 
concerned a rumor that Japanese bombs had exploded on 
the lawn of Doris Duke Cromwell's estate in Hawaii. "Truly 
this old world of ours has gone mad," exclaimed Mr. 
Knickerbocker with horror. Nancy Randolph of the News 
also touched on the Cromwell outrage, describing the ex- 
asperating day Mrs. Cromwell spent trying to get her care- 
taker on the telephone. Everybody else just ignored the 
whole distasteful business, with Elsa Maxwell of the Jour- 
nal-American achieving perhaps the loveliest detachment. 
"There is something in the nature of food that brings out 
man's noblest qualities," she wrote dreamily. "I've always 
distrusted people who don't eat." 

In the sports department, the boys were also taken by 
surprise. Joe Williams of the World-Telegram turned over 
most of his column to the war, but it was clear that his 
mind was still reeling. "It's a grim picture," he said, 
prophesying that a good many celebrated performers 
would soon be called to the colors, "one to nobody's lik- 
ing, but it's War." This, in fact, was the general note. "All 
the club-owners are worried over the war situation," wrote 
Daniel, also in the World-Telegram, "and there is a feeling 
that 1942 will find a lot of big leaguers at army training 
camps." Stanley Frank of the Post was another man able 
to look the facts squarely in the face. "The drafting of 
Greenberg, then Feller, the biggest names in the game, 
is a stern warning that baseball can expect no favors dur- 
ing the period of national emergency," he observed bravely. 


"This is as it should be. . . . Today it does not seem dread- 
fully important whether there are low-run or high-scoring 
games in baseball." 

By Tuesday everyone had begun to catch his breath, 
although the coverage was by no means perfect. The 
Lieutenant-Commander was still mute, but Leonard Lyons 
of the Post had got around to Doris Duke Cromwell, George 
Ross of the World-Telegram noted briefly that the cus- 
tomers were rather upset at Sardfs, Miss Kilgallen, in a 
hasty roundup of her beat, reported that on the first night 
of hostilities nobody asked Joe DiMaggio or Franchot Tone 
for his autograph, and Danton Walker of the News broke 
his silence with a handsome generalization. "War, we will 
discover, is a grim business," he wrote. Nick Kenny, a radio 
commentator on the Mirror^ came up with a timely poem 

The Samurai of old Japan was honest, 

brave, and true — 
At stabbing neighbors in the back he 

would have looked askew. 

The society writers were getting warmed up, too. Cholly 
Knickerbocker gave a hushed description of a luncheon at 
Tony's Trouville. "It was a poignant moment," he breathed, 
"pregnant with solemnity, as the fashionable group in both 
bar and restaurant stood at attention while our National 
Anthem was played." Mr. Knickerbocker also took about 
four hundred words to discuss whether, in view of the emer- 
gency, Mrs. Frederick Payne might not be well advised to 
abandon her nickname of "Tokio." No decision was reached. 
Patricia Coffin of the World-Telegram appeared for the first 
time with a few grace notes on sacrifice in high places, 

Battle's Distant Sound 177 

quoting in particular Mrs. Vincent Astor. "The sight of 
ermine and chinchilla makes my stomach turn," Mrs. Astor 
seems to have said. "I am making a point of wearing the 
simplest clothes for the duration." Miss Maxwell still clung 
to her splendid isolation, this time analyzing the qualities 
that make Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, and Charles Boyer 
especially appetizing to females. She was joined by Malcolm 
Johnson of the Sun, who began his notice of some cere- 
monies at a night club with what sounded like a paraphrase 
of "The Shooting of Dan McGrew": "It was opening night 
at the Cafe Lamaze and there was a million dollars' worth 
of talent in the band." 

The sportswriters were still more or less groping their way 
in the dark. "The President of the United States had just 
asked the joint session of Congress for a declaration of war, 
and now making small talk with the young giant seemed 
terribly futile, even facetious, in this moment of grave 
crisis," wrote Stanley Frank in an only partially successful 
attempt to explain how he happened to be interviewing 
Buddy Baer. Joe Williams agreed with Cholly Knicker- 
bocker that it was a mad world. The erudite John Kieran of 
the Times and "Information Please" found himself involved 
in a rather untidy analogy between the United States and 
a college with two first-string football teams. Jimmy Powers 
of the News and Richard Vidmer of the Herald Tribune 
conceded that sports might not be so awfully important but 
remarked wistfully that they might have some value as 
escape mechanisms. Only Daniel seemed to have shaken off 
the general depression. "Major league magnates and man- 
agers today began to emerge from the anaesthetic admin- 
istered by the first shock of war news, and show some life 
in negotiations for players," he wrote briskly. Obviously he 
felt that it was about time. 


Wednesday came and went with no word from Winchell, 
and for the most part his colleagues were transferring their 
vagrant attention to something else. Danton Walker noted 
that the patrons at the Versailles got quite a nasty little 
scare when a defective fuse blew out the lights; Ted Friend 
of the Mirror scooped the field with a schedule of cover 
charges for New Year's Eve, adding a warning that "grave 
affairs will make hilarity difficult"; "Heartening has been 
the Broadway reaction," observed Ed Sullivan of the News, 
applying timestyle to Armageddon. But on the whole the 
tempo was slackening. 

Society was calmer, too. "C'est la guerre," wrote Nancy 
Randolph philosophically, describing a visit to a night club 
which contained little except Mrs. Byron Foy, looking 
wonderful in a strapless black grown. Patricia Coffin began 
a story "Mrs. Henry J. Topping, Jr., clutched the telephone, 
her eyes widening," but nothing much came of it. Even the 
great Knickerbocker appeared to be running down. Miss 
Maxwell, however, maintained her spectacular composure 
with a funny story about how she had been mistaken for a 
ski champion. This was notable chiefly for an interesting 
translation from the French of Francois Villon — "Well, 
much snows have melted since yesteryear." 

Sports continued in about the same key. Two writers 
happened to hit on a very similar device. "The Little Brown 
Men have turned out to be yellow," wrote Dan Parker in 
the Mirror. "The little brown brothers, eh?" said Joe Wil- 
liams indignantly. "The little brown b s!" It was impos- 
sible to say whether Mr. Williams or the World-Telegram 
copy desk decided to keep this remark so demure. 

On Thursday, Winchell published a rather elementary 
biography of General George Armstrong Custer, who died 
in 1876, and things were moderately quiet on all other 

Battle's Distant Sound 179 

fronts. Mr. Knickerbocker, Miss Coffin, and Miss Randolph 
all noted that the war was seriously interfering with the 
matrimonial designs of various young ladies of distinguished 
position, but they let it go at that. The imperturbable Miss 
Maxwell told of a talk she once had with Diamond Jim 
Brady. They discussed his ice. Sports were almost back to 

On Friday the great silence was broken at last. The 
Commander's column contained three items about the war, 
including a pun on the Hawaiian word ' poi" which was old. 
The only other contributions of any interest were a parody 
of "The Night Before Christmas" by Nick Kenny, who, like 
Mr. Knickerbocker and Mr. Williams, was of the opinion 
that the world was going mad, and Miss Maxwell's majestic 
progress on her untroubled way. This time she wrote about 
the Marx Brothers. 

On Saturday there was only one great question still left 
to be answered. "What on earth is Lucius Beebe going to 
say about all this?" the members of Cafe Society asked 
themselves anxiously as they rang for black coffee and the 
Herald Tribune. The reply was reassuring, though perhaps 
not entirely unexpected. The war was out of luck. Mr. 
Beebe had cut it dead. 

Robert Benchley: In Memoriam 

One afternoon about two years ago, Bob Benchley dropped 
in at my home for a drink. It was at a time when my life 
had got more or less turned around backward, something 
apt to happen to a drama critic, and as usual I was still in 
my pajamas, though it was about six o'clock in the evening. 
The idea of not dressing till nightfall seemed rational 
enough to me, since I had nowhere in particular to go in 
the daytime, but it was a matter of some concern to my son, 
who was just eight, and attending a school where, it 
seemed, the other boys' fathers performed respectably, and 
suitably clothed, in their offices from nine to five. Ap- 
parently, the jocular explanation among my son's classmates 
who came to call on him from time to time was that I was 
a burglar by profession, and it caused him intense em- 
barrassment. When Benchley finally got up to go, and I 
went to the door with him, it was more than the child could 
peaceably bear. 

"Gee, Dad, you're not going to start going out in the 
street that way, are you?" he cried in dismay. 

"No," I said. "I'll try to spare you that final humiliation." 

It was hardly a notable remark, but it seemed to amuse 

my guest, who chose to regard it as somehow typical of my 

domestic life, and he laughed very gratifyingly thereafter 

whenever he happened to think of it. This anecdote, dim 


Robert Benchley: In Memoriam 18 1 

and aimless in itself, is illuminating only in that it shows 
how politely anxious, how delighted he really was to pro- 
mote his friends, and I certainly wasn't an especially old 
one, to the pleasant company of fellow-humorists. 

When you were with him, in the wonderful junk shop he 
operated at the Royalton in "21," or in less fashionable 
saloons which had the simple merit of staying open all 
night, you had a very warm and encouraging feeling that 
you were a funnier man than you'd previously suspected, 
the things you said sounded quite a lot better than they 
really were and, such was the miracle of his sympathy and 
courteous hope, they often actually were pretty good. He 
wanted his guests to feel that they were succeeding socially 
and he did his best to make it easy for them. The truth, of 
course, was that Benchley himself maneuvered these con- 
versations, tactfully providing most of the openings for wit, 
but the effect was that people were mysteriously improved 
in his company, surprisingly at home on a level of easy 
charm of which nobody would have dreamed they were 
capable. This willingness to play straight man to amateur 
but hopeful comedians is rather rare in the world he in- 
habited, where it is not customary to give very much away, 
but he did it instinctively. 

I have used the word "courteous" before, but it seems in- 
evitable. He was one of the most courteous men I ever 
knew, in the sense that whenever he was aware of a feel- 
ing of insecurity or inadequacy in anyone he met, he was 
automatically their genial, admiring ally against the world. 
It committed him to a great many bores and some men and 
women who used him rather shamelessly, and he knew it 
all right, but he was helpless. Perhaps it was a price he had 
agreed with himself to pay for the luxury of knowing that 
he had failed very few people in kindness. 

Most of the available anecdotes about Benchley have re- 


cently been put through the giant mangle operated by the 
gossip columnists, coming out in the form of an extremely 
depressing hash, and I have no intention of adding to them 
here. Anyway, his humor didn't fall very easily into formal 
patterns. He was enchanted once when a young woman em- 
ployed to grapple with his wildly tangled affairs remarked 
quite unexpectedly, "Sniff. Sniff. Somebody in this room 
has brown eyes" (I have probably butchered that one as 
cruelly as the genius on The Post), and most of the things 
he said or wrote himself that reflected his personality most 
accurately had the same quality of almost-logic, the same 
chilly, fascinating little skid off the hard road and right 
to the edge of the swamp, where the mind goes down and 
doesn't come up. 

Though a great many earnest students have tried, the 
nature of humor has never been very satisfactorily defined 
— there are too many tastes and nothing is terribly funny 
to everybody — and it is a reckless thing to try to put any 
writer into a neat and permanent compartment. It is 
especially hard for me with Benchley, because the extra fact 
of known personality inevitability gets into it, too. Reread- 
ing his pieces, that is, my judgment is influenced by a clear 
picture of how he would have looked telling the same story, 
punctuating it with the abandoned laughter that used to 
be so famous at opening nights, and assisting himself with 
gestures of quiet desperation. 

It is also conditioned by another absurdity not apparent 
in the text. For the most part, he wrote about his own 
polite New England bafflement in the face of strange but 
negligible crises; the actual fact was that he led one of the 
most insanely complicated private lives of our day and did 
it, on the whole, with extraordinary composure. It is pos- 
sible that this secondary information makes his stories seem 
funnier to me than they really are, so that my estimate of 

Robert Benchley: In Memoriam 183 

his talent may be a little high. I can't honestly say that he 
made me laugh more than any other humorist writing in 
his time — some of Thurber's maniacal experiences in 
Columbus, Ohio, still seem to me incomparable as examples 
of comic genius operating on what must have been an ex- 
tremely favorable environment — but I think he was, by 
far, the most brilliant and consistent of the school, orig- 
inating with Leacock, who performed such dizzy miracles 
with parody, non sequitur, garbled reference, and all the 
other materials of off-center wit. 

He avoided with a very acute instinct the monotony that 
can come from a reiterated comic device and the disaster 
that comes from crossing the strict line which divides high 
comedy from awful foolishness. He was sure, wonderfully 
resourceful, and his style, really based on a lifelong respect 
for good writing, would have been admirable applied to 
anything. It was no secret, I guess, that his later appear- 
ances in the movies and on the radio bored and depressed 
him, though he was enormously successful at it, for he was 
dedicated to writing, and he suffered bitterly when, mis- 
takenly or not, he decided that he couldn't do it any more, 
and never did. 

In commenting on him as a critic, an editorial note in The 
New Yorker said: 

His reviews had a quality now largely missing in criticism in that 
they reflected a complete personality, genial, sensitive, informed, too 
mature and tolerant to care about the easy, rather discreditable repu- 
tation for wit that can come from hasty and intemperate ridicule. It 
was a weapon he didn't need anyway; his disapproval was all the 
more effective because it always seemed clear that his kind heart was 
far more anxious to admire and praise. 


That was true of all his work and, in a sense, of all his 
life. His death was a sad loss to thousands of people who 
never knew him; to his friends it still seems almost in- 
credible. He took up so much room in so many lives. 


Outwitting the Lightning 

There was an article somewhere a while ago about how to 
keep from getting hit by lightning. I don't remember much 
that it said, because our cook was reading a serial in the 
same issue about a girl who fell in love with a jai-alai player, 
and took the magazine up to bed with her every night, so 
that I didn't get very far with the lightning article except 
to learn that you mustn't stand around under trees, and 
I knew that already. 

It reminded me, though, of the times my aunt and I 
used to have with thunderstorms when I was a child. My 
aunt's major obsession is cats, which she thinks climb up on 
people's beds at night and smother them, but lightning 
comes next. I have heard that the fear of lightning is con- 
genital, but I doubt it, because I can't remember that it 
ever bothered me until I went to stay with her on Long 

On the South Shore, storms come up very quickly. The 
clouds mount, purple on black, in the west. There is a stiff, 
hot wind that turns up the under sides of the leaves, giving 
everything a strange, end-of-the-world effect, and the next 
thing you know you're in the middle of it. Sometimes, of 
course, the storms go rumbling and flashing out to sea, but 
not often, and when they do, they're as likely as not to 
come back treacherously from the east, where you least 



expect them. These storms are hardest of all for my aunt to 
bear. They put her in a sort of double jeopardy and her 
nerves go all to pieces, so that she usually ends up sitting on 
a raincoat in the cellar. 

I was about eight when I had my first experience with 
Long Island lightning. I was sitting on the floor cutting out 
the wings for a cardboard airplane with a pair of scissors 
when my aunt came in the room. She was wearing a pair 
of my uncle's rubbers and her head was wrapped in a 
towel, because thunderstorms always made it ache. She 
looked unusual and mildly deranged, like the White Queen. 
When she saw me, she gave a negligible squeal. 

"Put down those scissors!" she said. 

"They haven't any points," I said hastily. My mother was 
almost as theatrical about scissors as my aunt was about 
cats, her theory being that an enormous number of people 
committed involuntary hara-kiri every year by falling on 
the points. 

"It isn't the points," said my aunt. "They're steel. Put 
them down before — oh, dear!" 

There had been a violent crash just then, apparently di- 
rectly outside the window. My aunt leaned against the 
door, shuddering. 

"My, but that was close!" she gasped. "It must have hit 
one of the maples." 

I got up and ran to the window, but there wasn't much 
to see. The rain was coming down straight and blinding, 
and everything looked very queer in the yellow glare. The 
trees seemed all right, though. 

"I don't see — " I began, but she caught me by the 

"Come away from that window," she whispered fiercely. 
"Do you want to get killed? Never, never stand near a 
window when there's a thunderstorm." 

It was a bad storm and it lasted all afternoon. By the 

Outwitting the Lightning 189 

time it had gone muttering off to sea, I knew everything 
that you mustn't do during a thunderstorm. 

In the first place, you mustn't use the telephone. If it 
rings, don't answer it. In spite of uninformed persons who 
imagine telephone receivers are rubber, they are made of 
steel. Touch one, and up you go. My aunt's explanation of 
that is quite simple: anything steel (and all the metal in 
the house automatically becomes steel with the first gather- 
ing thunderheads ) attracts electricity. When it attracts 
enough, it blows up, along with anyone imprudent enough 
to be attached to it. My aunt's horror of the telephone ex- 
tends to everything else that works by electricity. No matter 
how dark it gets, she never turns on the lights; she uses 
candles. If she happens to be in her car when a storm 
breaks, she turns off the switch and sits there, to the con- 
fusion of traffic, until it is over. This is purest agony, be- 
cause the car is steel too, and liable to go wham with her at 
any moment. 

Next to steel, water is the most dangerous thing in a 
thunderstorm. It conducts electricity. This is a somewhat 
vague term in her mind. She doesn't mean that water con- 
veys electricity from one place to another. She means, in a 
large way, that any body of water becomes impregnated 
with electricity at the outset of a storm and stays that way 
until it is over. Anyone foolish enough to get in it is briskly 
and competently electrocuted. This theory applies equally 
to our bathtub and to the Great South Bay, except that 
the bay, being larger, holds its electricity longer. She con- 
siders it very unwise to go swimming for at least an hour 
after a storm is over. 

Draughts are another thing. In spite of the shattering 
violence of which it is capable, lightning strays like smoke 
along the faintest current of air. When a storm begins, she 
shuts and locks every door and window in the house. That 
makes everyone pretty hot and uncomfortable, but it 


doesn't do much good. There are always strange breezes 
around her ankles, any one of which may easily carry a bolt 
which will demolish the house. The fireplace is the most 
perilous source of draughts. It is an open, almost suicidal 
invitation to destruction, and she avoids it carefully. As a 
matter of fact, a fireplace had very nearly been the end of 
my grandfather, who had been sitting in front of one when 
a ball of fire rolled down the chimney and out on the 
hearth, where it oscillated for some time, looking at him, 
before it rolled thoughtfully away and disappeared in the 

That is another of the perils of lightning: its ability to 
assume practically any form you can think of. It can be a 
bolt, or a ball, or even a thin mist, luminous but deadly. 
You can take all the negative precautions you want — avoid- 
ing metal and draughts and water — but it will get you any- 
way if it's in the mood. There is only one positive cure for 
lightning, and that is rubber. My aunt has the utmost faith 
in rubber, which she thinks confers a sort of magic im- 
munity. If you wear rubber, lightning can't get at you, not 
even if it strikes in the same room. Like all her precautions, 
however, even that has one miserable flaw. You have to be 
all rubber. If there is a single chink, however small, the 
lightning gets in, and you're done for. When a storm gets 
really bad, my aunt always spreads one raincoat on the 
floor and sits on it. Then she puts another one over her 
head, like a tent. She sits that way until the storm is over, 
when she reappears tentatively, a little at a time. It always 
seems to astonish her mildly to find the rest of us alive and 
unsinged, but I think she puts it down mostly to luck, and 
is convinced that in the end we'll pay for our mad and un- 
precedented recklessness. It is a tribute to her training that 
even now, with the first far-away roll of thunder, I think so 

Ring Out, Wild Bells 

When I finally got around to seeing Max Reinhardt's cin- 
ema version of "A Midsummer-Night's Dream/' and saw a 
child called Mickey Rooney playing Puck, I remembered 
suddenly that long ago I had taken the same part. 

Our production was given on the open-air stage at the 
Riverdale Country School, shortly before the war. The 
scenery was only the natural scenery of that suburban dell, 
and the cast was exclusively male, ranging in age from 
eleven to perhaps seventeen. While we had thus preserved 
the pure, Elizabethan note of the original, it must be ad- 
mitted that our version had its drawbacks. The costumes 
were probably the worst things we had to bear, and even 
"Penrod, tragically arrayed as Launcelot in his sister's stock- 
ings and his father's drawers, might have been embarrassed 
for us. Like Penrod, we were costumed by our parents, 
and like the Schoflelds, they seemed on the whole a little 
weak historically. Half of the ladies were inclined to favor 
the Elizabethan, and they had constructed rather bunchy 
ruffs and farthingales for their offspring; others, who had 
read as far as the stage directions and learned that the ac- 
tion took place in an Athenian wood, had produced some- 
thing vaguely Athenian, usually beginning with a sheet. 
Only the fairies had a certain uniformity. For some rea- 
son their parents had all decided on cheesecloth, with here 
and there a little ill-advised trimming with tinsel. 



My own costume was mysterious, but spectacular. As 
nearly as I have ever been able to figure things out, my 
mother found her inspiration for it in a Maxfield Parrish 
picture of a court jester. Beginning at the top, there was a 
cap with three stuffed horns; then, for the main part, a 
pair of tights that covered me to my wrists and ankles; 
and finally slippers with stuffed toes that curled up at the 
ends. The whole thing was made out of silk in alternate 
green and red stripes, and (unquestionably my poor 
mother's most demented stroke) it was covered from head 
to foot with a thousand tiny bells. Because all our costumes 
were obviously perishable, we never wore them in re- 
hearsal, and naturally nobody knew that I was invested 
with these peculiar sound effects until I made my entrance 
at the beginning of the second act. 

Our director was a man who had strong opinions about 
how Shakespeare should be played, and Puck was one of 
his favorite characters. It was his theory that Puck, being 
"the incarnation of mischief," never ought to be still a min- 
ute, so I had been coached to bound onto the stage, and 
once there to dance up and down, cocking my head and 
waving my arms. 

"I want you to be a little whirlwind," this man said. 

Even as I prepared to bound onto the stage, I had my 
own misgivings about those dangerously abundant ges- 
tures, and their probable effect on my bells. It was too late, 
however, to invent another technique for playing Puck, 
even if there had been room for anything but horror in my 
mind. I bounded onto the stage. 

The effect, in its way, must have been superb. With 
every leap I rang like a thousand children's sleighs, my 
melodies foretelling God knows what worlds of merriment 
to the enchanted spectators. It was even worse when I came 
to the middle of the stage and went into my gestures. The 

Ring Out, Wild Bells 193 

other ringing had been loud but sporadic. This was per- 
sistent, varying only slightly in volume and pitch with the 
vehemence of my gestures. To a blind man, it must have 
sounded as though I had recklessly decided to accompany 
myself on a xylophone. A maturer actor would probably 
have made up his mind that an emergency existed, and 
abandoned his gestures as impracticable under the circum- 
stances. I was thirteen, and incapable of innovations. I had 
been told by responsible authorities that gestures went 
with this part, and I continued to make them. I also con- 
tinued to ring — a silvery music, festive and horrible. 

If the bells were hard on my nerves, they were even 
worse for the rest of the cast, who were totally unprepared 
for my new interpretation. Puck's first remark is addressed 
to one of the fairies, and it is mercifully brief. 

I said, "How now, spirit! Whither wander you?" 
This unhappy child, already embarrassed by a public ap- 
pearance in cheesecloth and tinsel, was also burdened with 
an opening speech of sixteen lines in verse. He began 

"Over hill, over dale, 

Through brush, through brier, 
Over park, over pale, 

Through flood, through fire . . ." 

At the word "fire," my instructions were to bring my 
hands up from the ground in a long, wavery sweep, in- 
tended to represent fire. The bells pealed. To my startled 
ears, it sounded more as if they exploded. The fairy stopped 
in his lines and looked at me sharply. The jingling, how- 
ever, had diminished; it was no more than as if a faint 
wind stirred my bells, and he went on: 


"I do wander everywhere, 

Swifter than the moone's sphere . . ." 

Here again I had another cue, for a sort of swoop and 
dip indicating the swiftness of the moone's sphere. Again 
the bells rang out, and again the performance stopped in 
its tracks. The fairy was clearly troubled by these interrup- 
tions. He had, however, a child's strange acceptance of 
the inscrutable, and was even able to regard my bells as 
a last-minute adult addition to the program, nerve-racking 
but not to be questioned. I'm sure it was only this that got 
him through that first speech. 

My turn, when it came, was even worse. By this time 
the audience had succumbed to a helpless gaiety. Every 
time my bells rang, laughter swept the spectators, and this 
mounted and mingled with the bells until everything else 
was practically inaudible. I began my speech, another long 
one, and full of incomprehensible references to Titania's 

"Louder!" said somebody in the wings. "You'll have to 
talk louder." 

It was the director, and he seemed to be in a danger- 
ous state. 

"And for heaven's sake, stop that jingling!" he said. 

I talked louder, and I tried to stop the jingling, but it 
was no use. By the time I got to the end of my speech, I 
was shouting and so was the audience. It appeared that I 
had very little control over the bells, which continued to 
jingle in spite of my passionate efforts to keep them 

All this had a very bad effect on the fairy, who by this 
time had many symptoms of a complete nervous collapse. 
However, he began his next speech: 

Ring Out, Wild Bells 195 

"Either I mistake your shape and making quite, 
Or else you are that shrewd and knavish sprite 
Called Robin Goodfellow: are you not he 

At this point I forgot that the rules had been changed 
and I was supposed to leave out the gestures. There was a 
furious jingling, and the fairy gulped. 

"Are you not he that, that . . ." 

He looked miserably at the wings, and the director sup- 
plied the next line, but the tumult was too much for him. 
The unhappy child simply shook his head. 

"Say anything!" shouted the director desperately. "Any- 
thing at all!" 

The fairy only shut his eyes and shuddered. 

"All right!" shouted the director. "All right, Puck. You 
begin your next speech." 

By some miracle, I actually did remember my next lines, 
and had opened my mouth to begin on them when sud- 
denly the fairy spoke. His voice was a high, thin monotone, 
and there seemed to be madness in it, but it was perfectly 

"Fourscore and seven years ago," he began, "our fa- 
thers brought forth on this continent a new nation, con- 
ceived . . ." 

He said it right through to the end, and it was cer- 
tainly the most successful speech ever made on that stage, 
and probably one of the most successful speeches ever 
made on any stage. I don't remember, if I ever knew, how 
the rest of us ever picked up the dull, normal thread of the 
play after that extraordinary performance, but we must 
have, because I know it went on. I only remember that in 
the next intermission the director cut off my bells with his 
penknife, and after that things quieted down and got dull. 

The Secret Life of Myself 

(With a Peck on the Cheek for James Thurber, Who Wrote The 
Secret Life of Walter Mitry) 

The rehearsal was going very badly. For at least the fifth 
time, the leading lady had come to the line which was sup- 
posed to read, "From now on, darling, you'll have to be 
strong for us both," and simply shaken her head in pretty 

"It's no use, Max," she said at last to the director. "I 
simply don't feel this scene. It sounds so damn silly. I know 
it's supposed to be sophisticated comedy. 'One of Charles L. 
Bedrock's urbane and searching studies of a woman's 
heart.' " She laughed unpleasantly. "But nobody can tell me 
that any woman in her right mind is going to leave her hus- 
band for the Wagner Act. Especially to take up with a 
man who keeps on telling her what a terrible time she's go- 
ing to have. I'm afraid I can't promise you anything for 
a long time but all my love and the clean satisfaction of a 
good fight.' For God's sake, what is that supposed to be? 
Churchill? I'm sure Bedrock is a great writer, but some- 
body ought to tell him he isn't Lillian Hellman." 

They all looked at her helplessly, because it was obvious 
that the scene couldn't be played as Bedrock had written 
it. It was disastrously naive in the way that often happens 


The Secret Life of Myself 197 

when a poetic and essentially cloistered talent attempts 
to deal with the affairs of the changing world. 

"Perhaps you have some constructive suggestions, Miss 
Rembody?" said the director sardonically. 

"No," she replied. "All I know is it stinks." 

"God," he said. "I wish Wolcott Gibbs were here. He's 
only a drama critic, but I understand he's been called in 
a couple of times — secretly, of course — to advise Behrman 
and Robert E. Sherwood and a couple of others. I bet 
he'd know what to do." 

"Perhaps I would, Max." The quiet, rather tired voice 
came from the back of the darkened theatre and it was a 
moment or two before the others could identify the speaker 
in the gloom. It was indeed Wolcott Gibbs, however, and 
as he spoke he came slowly down the aisle, furling his um- 

"I just dropped in for a moment to get out of the damn 
rain," he said, "but now that I'm here, of course, you're 
quite welcome to any assistance I can give. Would you 
mind trying that line just once more, Miss Rembody?" 

" 'From now on, my darling, you'll have to be strong 
for both of us,'" she began, responding automatically to 
his easy charm, as so many women had. 

"I see," he said. "The idea, as I get it, is that you're pre- 
pared to give up your old life at the Stork Club and 21' to 
help your lover gather material for his book on the evils of 
the vertical hookover system in the automotive industry." 

"Whatever that may be," she said. 

"But you're a little afraid not only of giving up financial 
security but also of the ridicule of all your old friends?" 

"That's it," she said. "Isn't it silly?" 

"Precisely," he said. "It's a basically preposterous situ- 
ation. Even a Theatre Guild audience would laugh it off 
the stage. Let me see." For a moment he was lost in thought 


while they watched him anxiously. At last he snapped his 
fingers and turned to the director. 

"You got your secretary here, Max?" he asked. "I cant 
guarantee that these are exactly the final lines, but at least 
it's something for Bedrock to work on. All right, 
Miss . . . ?" 

"Grismund, Mr. Gibbs," she said rather breathlessly, for 
it was the first time she had met a critic in the flesh. "Yes, 
I'm ready. If you don't go too fast." 

"Here we go, then," he said. "Instead of having Miss 
Rembody looking out of the window and saying that last 
line, she goes over to a little bar in the corner — you'll 
have to put that in, of course — and makes herself a cocktail. 
Very slowly and carefully, because she's trying to make 
an important decision. We see only her back for a minute, 
but when she turns around she has a glass in her hand and 
there's a curiously ironic little smile on her face. 'Mars- 
den,' she says, or whatever the guy's name is, 'Marsden, 
did it ever occur to you that I'm a beautiful woman?' " 

"Well, that's more like it," said Miss Rembody. 

"Naturally, you're a little startled by that, Mr. — ah — van 
Drum, isn't it? — but you recover in a second. 'Of course, 
everyone knows you're the loveliest thing in New York, 
Bedelia,' you say, giving a little bow." 

"As I understand this character," said Mr. van Drum, "he 
is one of those crusading journalists, like Quentin Reyn- 
olds or Ralph Ingersoll — you know, a sort of slouchy, Lin- 
coln type. It seems to me that a sophisticated note like that 
is a little out of key. More for somebody like Coward, I'd 
say. Anyway, I don't see how I'm going to learn damn 
near a whole new part with the show opening this Saturday 

There was dismay on every face, for not only was For- 
rest van Drum a notoriously slow study but it was also 

The Secret Life of Myself 199 

clear that this new conception of the part was fatally at 
variance with his rough-hewn appearance and his pleasant 
but unmistakably Middle Western accent. At last Darius 
Portaman, the old producer, who was an almost legendary 
figure in the theatre, sighed and shook his head. 

"I'm afraid it's no go, as you youngsters put it," he said. 
"I think Mr. Gibbs is on the right track, but nobody else 
could possibly learn the part in time, unless" — his eyes 
lighted for a moment, but then he gave a rueful smile — 
"but, of course, that's out of the question." 

"What?" said Miss Rembody. 

"I was going to say unless Mr. Gibbs would consider 
taking it on himself, but I'm afraid that was just a dream. 
I'm sure his profession has taught him practically all there 
is to know about acting, but naturally he isn't an actor him- 

To everyone's surprise, Miss Rembody gave a delighted 
little laugh. 

"Perhaps he isn't now," she said, "but he certainly was 

"What do you mean by that, Miss Rembody?" asked Mr. 
Portaman. "I don't think this is exactly the time for levity." 

"I'm not joking," she said. "It was a long time ago, when 
I was a very little girl. I had a brother up at the Riverdale 
Country School and one spring my mother took me up 
there for their spring play. It was A Midsummer Night's 
Dream and Mr. Gibbs was Puck. I'm sure you'll laugh, but 
it was one of the most astonishing performances I 
ever saw in my life. He was only a boy, of course, but it 
was really brilliant — confident and gay and absolutely pro- 
fessional. I'm sure exactly what Shakespeare meant Puck 
to be." 

"Is that so?" said Mr. Portaman. "Well, this is certainly 
a great stroke of luck. Think you could see your way to 


giving us a little hand around here, Mr. Gibbs? I'd cer- 
tainly appreciate it/' 

"I don't know, sir," said the critic rather doubtfully. 
Tm afraid a man s apt to get a little rusty after thirty 

"Nonsense, my boy," said Mr. Portaman. "Acting is some- 
thing in one's blood. Either you're born with it or you 
aren't. I've got a pretty big investment represented in this 
show — about four hundred and sixty-five thousand dollars, 
I think — and if I'm willing to take a chance on it, I don't 
see why you shouldn't be. After all, what have you got to 

"Well," said Gibbs, with his melancholy but rather charm- 
ing smile, "you can never tell about those sons of bitches 
in the Drama Critics Circle, but . . ." He gave a quick 
shrug, obviously having come to a decision. "Ah, the hell 
with them. The worst they can do is take away my mem- 
bership, and I don't think they'd dare go as far as that. 
After all, I know where a good many bodies are buried. 
It's a deal, Mr. Portaman! I'd be delighted to play Marsden 
Barlock for you!" 

"Thank God!" breathed the old man. "You've saved the 
day. Miss Grismund, take a note to arrange for Mr. Gibbs' 
Equity membership on your way home this afternoon. 
After all," he said with the ghost of a chuckle, "we might 
as well do these things according to Hoyle." 

"That's right, sir," said Gibbs, taking off his overcoat 
and assuming the position on the stage rather irritably 
vacated by Forrest van Drum. "Now, where were we? Oh, 
yes, I've just said, 'Of course, everyone knows you're the 
loveliest thing in New York, Bedelia,' and now, Miss Rem- 
body, you say — let me see — yes, you'd better say, 'Thank 
you, kind sir. And that's precisely why I can't go on with 
this. I don't wish to seem cynical, Marsden, but I can't 

The Secret Life of Myself 201 

help feeling that there is a certain absurdity in the spec- 
tacle of a beautiful woman, clearly designed for love, carry- 
ing one of those little signs in a picket line/ "' 

"By God, I think he's got it!" whispered the director, 
as the clear, unhesitating voice . . . 

"For heaven's sake," whispered Mrs. Gibbs, tugging at 
her husband's sleeve. "Now what's the matter with you?" 


"I don't know," she said. "You were muttering and toss- 
ing around as if you were having a nightmare. You weren't 
really asleep, were you?" 

"Certainly not," he replied. "May have just shut my eyes 
for a minute, that's all." 

"Well, you'd better try to keep them open," she said. 
"After all, that's what you're supposed to be paid for, 
isn't it?" 

"Oh, God, I guess so," he said, and focussed grimly on 
the stage, where Marsden Barlock was just clasping Miss 
Rembody in his arms and from the context it appeared that 
they had decided to take the midnight for Detroit. I still 
think it made more sense the way I had it, he thought, and 
if that van Drum can act, I'm Ty Cobb. 

Song at Twilight 

He was getting along beautifully until he shot that pick- 
erel/' said Mrs. Crane. 

"He did what?" said Mrs. Anderson. They have been 
discussing a man called Ed Herlicher, whom they had both 
known several years before — one of those rather mysterious 
young men who for a little while turn up everywhere in 
New York, spending a good deal of money and acquiring 
a certain reputation either as comedians or beaux, and 
then vanish back into the social underbrush from which 
they came. 

"He shot a pickerel," said Mrs. Crane. "With a double- 
barrelled shotgun. It was one of those absurd stories, like 
the things that happen in Evelyn Waugh." 

The seven people on the porch of the Cranes' ocean- 
front cottage looked at her hopefully, but she seemed to be 
overcome by the murmuring sea and the gentle evening 
air and leaned back with her eyes closed. 

"Wake up, dear," said Mrs. Anderson. "Tell us the rest 
of it." 

"That was all," said Mrs. Crane in an exhausted voice. 
"He shot this fish and that was the end of him." 

"No, it wasn't," said her husband. "Not the way you told 
it to me before." 

"Well, it was terribly silly," she said, reluctantly return- 


Song at Twilight 203 

ing to the mortal world. "This Ed Herlicher got around a 
lot, you know, and one week-end Jimmy Betts asked him up 
to his place in the Adirondacks. He had a hunting lodge 
on a lake, and a lot of them used to go up there to fish 
and shoot and — oh, whatever people like Jimmy Betts do 
when they aren't annoying girls or going to football games. 
Give me a drink, George." 

She held out her glass and George Crane filled it from 
the shaker. 

"Where was I?" she asked. "Oh, yes. Jimmy's lodge. 
Well, they had a lot of childish ideas up there, but I guess 
the worst was about this fish. It was supposed to be the 
biggest fish of its kind in that part of the world and they 
kept seeing it all the time right off the end of Jimmy's dock 
or somewhere, but it was too smart for them and nobody 
had been able to catch it. It got to be a legend. You know, 
the way people go on about that kind of stuff in the Satur- 
day Evening Post." 

She seemed about to fade away again but her husband 
caught her eye and shook his head. 

"All right" she said, "but that's really about all there 
was. Ed listened to them practically all one night and then 
early the next morning when he must have been still drunk 
he went down to the dock and when the fish came up, he 
shot it with one of Jimmy's guns. They couldn't even tell 
how big it had been because he blew it right in half. As 
I said, it was the end of him socially. They hardly talked 
to him for the rest of the week-end, and when he got back 
to town, it must have got around '21' and places that he 
wasn't, well, quite a gentleman because pretty soon he 
just disappeared. He may have shot himself for all I know." 
She yawned and settled back in her chair. "I told you it 
was a pretty dull story," she said. 


In the silence, George Crane looked around at the cock- 
tail party, which had been going on now for about an hour. 
It was apparently one of his failures. His wife was clearly 
in a mood when any social effort seemed to tax her un- 
bearably, and his friends, Mark and Virginia Anderson, who 
could generally be relied on to keep a conversation in mo- 
tion also had a rather limp and unpromising air. The other 
three were comparative strangers — a Mr. and Mrs. Derleth, 
whom he had known slightly in town and who had just 
taken a house a little way down the beach, and a man 
named Freddy Basker, a Princeton classmate of Mark An- 
derson's, who was out for the week-end. The Derleths 
weren't particulary hard to classify. They had usually gone 
to Black Point in the summer, but this year they had 
switched to Fire Island in the hope that the sea might do 
something for her asthma. Mr. Derleth had complained sev- 
eral times that he missed his golf, and Mrs. Derleth found 
herself unable to get used to the fact that no considerable 
trees grew on the island. There was a noble elm on her 
lawn at Black Point, much admired by artists, that had 
once cast its shadow on the soldiers of a king. Nothing, 
however, was precisely clear about Mr. Basker, a hoarse, 
reddish man of about thirty-five, except that he was quite 
drunk and obviously willing to get a good deal drunker. 
From time to time, he had filled his glass, without urging 
from his host, but, except for a low, tuneless humming, that 
had been the extent of his activity. Mr. Crane was about 
to give them all up — he had had a good many drinks 
himself and the role of conscientious host had begun to 
bore him — when help came from an unexpected source. 

"You know Mrs. Crane's pickerel reminds me of our rac- 
coon, Amy," said Mr. Derleth, chuckling and addressing 
his wife. 

"Oh, yes, tell them about that, Sam," she said. "It was 

Song at Twilight 205 

awfully sweet. There was this little brook behind our house 
in Black Point and almost every morning . . . no, but you 
go ahead, dear." 

"As my wife has told you," said Mr. Derleth, looking at 
her with faint disgust, "there's a little brook behind our 
place — empties into the Sound finally, I guess — and . . ." 

Mr. Basker was sitting beside Mr. Crane, who suddenly 
found he could detect a sort of lyric in his guest's hum- 
ming. "Empties into the Sound," hummed Mr. Basker. "You 
don't say. Into the Sound. Well, my God and my Jesus." 
Mr. Crane looked at him sharply but there was no particu- 
lar expression on his face. 

"And one winter morning," Mr. Derleth was saying 
when his host caught up with him again, "on my way 
out back to get the car, I saw this coon sitting on the 
bank, hell of a cute little specimen . . ." 

"What sex?" hummed Mr. Basker, but this time he was 
audible to them all. 

"I beg pardon?" said Mr. Derleth politely. 

"Unimportant point," said Mr. Basker, waving his hand. 
"Let it go." He began to hum again. 

"Anyway," said Mr. Derleth, "he was sitting there, and 
what do you suppose he was doing?" 

"Well — " began Mr. Basker. 

Mr. Crane cleared his throat. "What was he doing?" he 
asked hastily. 

"He'd broken the ice with his little paws," said Mr. 
Derleth, "and he was sitting there washing his face. Looked 
just like my own Timmie. That's our little boy." 

"How cunning" murmured Mrs. Crane, giving him a 
bright smile, and Mrs. Anderson also made sounds of sweet 

"Yes, sir," said Mr. Derleth, "and after that I'd see him 
practically every day. I guess he got used to me because 


after a while he didn't pay any attention to me at all. 
He'd just come down and break the ice with his little 
paw — " 

"How thick?" Mr. Basker asked. He was leaning forward 
and his eyes had a bright, peculiar fixity. 

"What?" said Mr. Derleth. 

"I said how thick was this ice," repeated Mr. Basker. 
"Approximately? Couple of inches? A foot? What did he 
do? Take a rock to it?" 

"No," said Mr. Derleth. "It was very thin, of course. 
He just had to tap it with his paw." 

"How cunning," said Mrs. Crane, rather desperately. 
"How terribly, terribly cunning. But everyone says they're 
awfully intelligent." 

Mr. Basker gave her a tolerant smile. "You keep out of 
this," he said. "You're just supposed to be the pickerel ex- 
pert." He turned back to Mr. Derleth. "Then what did he 
do? After he got finished with washing his face?" 

"How do you mean?" asked Mr. Derleth, whose geniality 
was beginning to show signs of strain. "That was all he did. 
Just washed his face." 

"Oh," said Mr. Basker. "Well, it's a damn good story, 
anyway. You'll never have any occasion to regret that story, 
old man." 

"Well" said Mrs. Derleth, but apparently he didn't hear 

"Damn good story," he repeated and got up and poured 
himself another drink. He sat down again and for a little 
while stared out to sea first with concentration, then sud- 
denly with a look of deep, inward pleasure on his face. 

"Reminds me of a somewhat similar experience I once 
had with a couple of rats," he said at length. "You want to 
hear about the experience I once had with a wonderful 
couple of rats?" 

Song at Twilight 207 

"Sure," said Mr. Crane. "What about these rats?" 

"It was when I had an apartment down on Tenth 
Street/' said Mr. Basker. "I wasn't married at the time, 
though God knows how that happened because I've been 
married off and on to various women since I was nine- 
teen. It's a hell of a thing, you start marrying dames and 
the first thing you know, you begin marrying them all. 
It's like — like collecting almost any kind of stuff." He 
stopped and looked doubtfully at Mr. Crane. "Say, listen," 
he said, "what the hell was I talking about?" 


"Rats?" said Mr. Basker and he frowned with brief per- 
plexity. "Oh, sure. Rats. That's right. It was down on 
Tenth Street. I had this apartment down there and for a 
long time I kept missing — ah — tennis balls. Many as two 
or three a week sometimes." His rather coppery eye fell 
on Mrs. Derleth and he winked at her genially. "I used to 
ask girls up there now and then," he said, "and for a 
while I thought they might be taking them. But then I 
thought now what the hell would they want with tennis 
balls. Whatever about these girls, they weren't much for 
playing tennis. I remember an Agnes used to come up 
there — you remember Agnes, Mark . . ." 

"I've heard about Agnes, Freddie," said Mr. Anderson. 
"You better get back to the rats." 

"O.K.," said Mr. Basker. "The rats. Let me see. Well, 
after I decided it wasn't the girls, or even Virgin Birth — " 

"Virgin Birth?" said Mrs. Crane. 

"Some name like that. One of Father Divine's Angels. 
Anyway, my cook. She was always taking stuff up to Har- 
lem with her after she got through, but only out of the ice- 
box. Not sporting goods. Well, I was ready to give up 
until one night I was lying in bed reading when I suddenly 
heard this noise — kind of a squeak and some scratching 


— in the corner. I looked around and there, by God, was 
one of the damnedest rats you ever saw. I figured he came 
out of the closet, which naturally emptied into the bed- 

Mr. Derleth, looking slightly harassed, went over to the 
table and mixed himself another drink. Mr. Basker waited 
politely until he had finished. 

"So I just lay there and watched," he said, "and what 
do you suppose the little son of a bitch did?" 

"Listen, Freddie," began Mr. Anderson. 

Mr. Basker ignored him. "I forgot to tell you there were 
a couple of tennis balls lying right there on the rug," he 
said rapidly. "Well, this rat went right up to one of them 
and gave it a little shove with his nose. Cutest thing you 
ever saw." 

"How about another drink?" said Mr. Crane. 

"Sure," said Mr. Basker and held out his glass. It was 
clear, however, that he had no intention of being diverted. 
"All right, I thought, this is the bastard that's been stealing 
my balls, but how? That's what I asked myself. How is he 
going to get it out of here? He can't take it in his mouth be- 
cause it's too damn big and he can't carry it because his 
little arms are too short and I can't see him getting to work 
and eating it right there on the rug. How the hell is that 
damn rat going to get that ball out of the room? I asked 
myself. That was my problem. How — " 

"He pushed it along with his nose, Freddie," said Mrs. 
Anderson. "That's easy." 

Mr. Basker looked at her blankly for a moment and Mr. 
Crane had a momentary impression that the well had 
run dry. He was mistaken, for Mr. Basker's face suddenly 
cleared and he beamed at her delightedly. 

"Mmmm," he said. "Well, I suppose he could have done 
that, but the point is, he didn't. I'll tell you what he did 

Song at Twilight 209 

do, because I think it's terribly cute. And I'm sure Mr. and 
Mrs. Deluxe will back me up." 

"Derleth," said Mr. Derleth. 

"Derleth. All right, here's what he did, and stop me if 
you don't think it's terribly cute. He lay down on his side 
next to one of the balls and he reached out his little paws 
and took it right in his arms. Then he rolled over until he 
was lying on his back. Just like a kid with a damn doll. Just 

"Drink?" said Mr. Crane. "You better let me get you a 
fresh drink." 

"No," said Mr. Basker. "You wait. Damn good story. 
Where — oh, yes, there he was on his back with the ball in 
his little arms." He bent forward and tapped Mr. Derleth on 
the knee. "Then what did he do?" he asked more hoarsely 
than ever. "Give you any number of guesses. It's hopeless." 

"All right. I give up," said Mr. Derleth, who was nothing 
if not a good sport. 

"You'd better," said Mr. Basker, "because he didn't do 
a damn thing. Not personally. He just lay there on his back 
and the first thing I knew, another rat came sniffing out 
of the closet. The female, of course. The little girl rat." 

"Oh?" said Mrs. Crane. 

"Certainly," said Mr. Basker firmly, "and pretty as a pic- 
ture, too." He closed his eyes as if reviewing the scene and 
it was clearly hard on his composure because he choked 
and had to wipe his eyes. "And what did she do?" he said 
when he had recovered. "Well, sir, she went right up to this 
boy rat, the husband, and she grabbed the end of his tail 
in her teeth and, by God, she pulled him right across the 
rug, ball and all, and right into the closet." He looked 
around at the members of his audience and his expression 
was bland and courteous, that of a man only anxious to in- 
struct and entertain. "In a couple of minutes," he said, 


"they came out after the other ball. Same thing all over 
again — he rolled over with the ball in his arms and she 
pulled him the hell out of the room. Damn if it wasn't the 
cutest thing you ever saw." 

"Well," said Mrs. Derleth, after a considerable pause, 
"I guess we'd better get started if we're going to get any 
dinner. Come on, Sam." 

She got up and produced suitable farewells. 

"Good night," she said to the Cranes. "It's been so nice. 
Good night, Mrs. Anderson, Mr. Anderson. I'm so glad to 
have met you." 

Her little nod to Mr. Basker was admirable — containing 
just the correct mixture of ladylike tolerance and amuse- 
ment. It was wasted on him, though, because by that time 
he was clearly lost in another of his foolish and disreputable 
dreams, humming to himself and tapping on the arm of 
his chair. 

Crusoe s Footprint 

It wasn't a very promising day — a strange, level wall of 
copper-colored clouds was building up in the west and the 
wind from the ocean was driving the waves higher and 
higher up the beach. Since the previous afternoon, the radio 
had been reporting a hurricane on its way up from the 
Florida Keys, with storm warnings already flying as far 
up the coast as Hatteras, but the inhabitants of Fire Is- 
land, who had twice seen the sea come smashing over 
their dunes, had developed an irritable fatalism about the 
weather and paid little attention to these alarms that always 
sprang up in September. A few nervous people still moved 
back to town with the first breath of danger from the South, 
but most of them, confident that the storm would either 
whirl harmlessly out to sea or else that the Coast Guard 
would give them ample warning of its approach, stayed 
where they were, feeling reasonably safe and agreeably 

It was a Sunday afternoon, and in spite of the radio 
and the threatening sky, the beach was crowded. The 
sun, seeming to shine with an extra and rather unearthly 
brilliance over the low barrier of clouds, heightened the 
gay colors of the ranked umbrellas and the blue sea, and 
in its light the tanned bathers also seemed to have a more 
than mortal glow. It was all as pretty and vulgar as a post- 



card, thought George Crane, who was lying on the sand in 
front of his summer cottage. He had just been rereading 
Henry James and felt in a rather supercilious and Con- 
tinental mood. 

"Let's take a walk," he said to his wife, who was spread 
out beside him on a blanket, inert but not quite dead. 
"Too damn many people." 

"All right," she said amiably. "Where to?" 

"I don't know," he said. "The lighthouse, I guess. We 
haven't been there for quite a while." 

"It's a long way. Five miles." 

"Three," he said. "And the sand is good and hard. It 
won't kill you." 

They stood up and started down toward the edge of the 

"Look at that tide," she said. "Do you think we'll be 
able to get back all right?" 

"Sure. We can walk on the dunes if we have to." 

They set out west along the beach. It was a walk they 
had taken many times that summer, almost precisely as 
often, in fact, as they had gone the other way, to the east- 
ward communities of Point o' Woods and Cherry Grove, 
and Mr. Crane, familiar with the scenery, found his mind 
free to wander back over the summer so nearly gone. He'd 
had a good time, he decided. His closest friends, Mark and 
Ginny Anderson, were pleasant people, generally tranquil 
In disposition, and articulate without feeling obliged to 
prove it by holding too many interesting literary and social 
opinions. I am a very tolerant man, he thought, but God 
1 get tired of these ambitious conversations. Their other ac- 
quaintances on the beach and the guests who'd come down 
for week-ends had also been entertaining on the whole, 
though there had been a few too gifted raconteurs among 

Crusoe's Footprint 213, 

them and one or two who were clearly not adapted to the 
innocent monotony of life on a beach. There had been 
the trouble about Miss Deedy Barton s cat, and he remem- 
bered a man called Francis Bidwell who had come to visit 
the Andersons, trailing an impressive reputation for per- 
suading ladies against their better judgment. Mr. Bidwell 
had been responsible for a rather difficult night at Sweeney's 
when he had attached himself much too purposefully to a 
girl who was generally conceded to be the property of one 
of the lifeguards. The guards had closed in quietly, moving 
as one man, and it had required the combined fascination 
of Mrs. Anderson and Mrs. Crane . . . He looked at his 
wife, who was wandering along the water's edge, still in- 
tent on finding the perfect shell that had been eluding her 
all summer. 

"I must say I find you extremely companionable, Emily," 
he said, parodying the fashionably constricted accents of 
Noel Coward in Private Lives. "There isn't a part of you I 
don't know, remember, and love." 

"My," she said. And then as a wave swept over her an- 
kles and ran high up on the beach, "Look at that. I told you 
were were going to get caught in this damn tide." 

"What do you care? You haven't anything on to get wet." 

She ignored that and began to whistle "Can't We Be 
Friends?" for she had a sweet, melancholy taste in music. 
His thoughts went back to the summer just behind them 
and presently he began to laugh. 

"Remember Mark and that damn woman?" he asked. 

"Mrs. Wilmot?" she said, referring to a rather trouble- 
some experience Mr. Anderson had had with a lady who 
had made up her mind that, as a writer, he was cramped 
by his family ties and had offered him her own house to< 
work in. It was hard to say whether or not another promise 


had been contained in this suggestion, but anyway, be- 
tween them, Mrs. Anderson and Mrs. Crane had fixed Mrs. 

"No," he said. "The other one. That time at Sweeney's." 
"Oh, yes," she said. "About the hair. That was funny." 
It had been funny, too. There had been about eight of 
them sitting there at a table by the dance floor one Saturday 
night. They had been watching the dancers — there was a 
never-ending fascination for Mr. Crane in the wild abandon 
of the steps they did and the certainly questionable pos- 
tures they assumed and its contrast with the cold, inscru- 
table expressions that they chose to wear — when they grad- 
ually became aware that Mr. Anderson was involved with a 
red-haired girl at the next table. She was very drunk, 
though no drunker than the three delicate young men she 
was with, and her passion for Mr. Anderson was open and 
explicit. Mr. Crane found that most of the conversation 
was still fresh in his memory. 

"Listen," she had said, addressing them all, "I love this 
man." She had hitched her chair away from her own table 
and so was in a position to put her arm around her vic- 
tim's neck. "You got such wonderful beautiful hair," she had 
said fondly. "What's your name, honey?" 
"Anthony Comstock." 

"O.K. if I call you Tony?" He had said it was and she 
had proceeded even more directly. "Whyn't we go out 
to the bar, Tony?" 

"Sure," he'd said, "but what about your friends?" 
"Oh, them!" It had amused her to be frank about her 
friends, and they had looked down at their bracelets in 
embarrassment and delight. Just then, one of the lifeguards 
had come to claim her for a dance, and she had gone, though 
smiling back at him with unmistakable promise. During 
the dance, though Mrs. Anderson had urged him warmly 

Crusoe's Footprint 215 

to enjoy himself, he had changed places with Eddie Wil- 
lard, who had been sitting across the table. 

"Tell her you're John S. Sumner," he'd said. "Just tell 
her you're crazy about sex." 

The lady had come back but such had been her exer- 
tions on the floor that she walked in a daze and sat down 
without looking behind her. In a moment, however, her 
hand had gone out, found Eddie Willard's shoulder, worked 
its way lovingly up his neck, and come to rest at last on 
his head, which was as bald as an egg. For a moment, her 
fingers had tapped doubtfully, then incredulously, and 
then she had swung around and finding only a naked skull 
where she had expected wonderful, beautiful hair, her 
mouth had dropped open in dismay and she had given a 
small, ladylike scream. 

"My God," she had cried with horror, "what's happened 
to you, Tony?" 

The summer had been full of experiences like that — 
small, neat absurdities, in most of which, he reflected, his 
friends' behavior had been a credit to him. They were not 
humorists, thank God; they just seemed to show a certain 
presence of mind in unlikely situations. It occurred to him 
briefly that financial security sometimes has a good deal 
to do with charm; that the native Fire Islanders, that is, 
who were in the business of renting houses and selling 
food, might naturally be inclined to make humor easy 
for transients, and even that the soft, mysterious young 
men, who made up such a large part of the summer popula- 
tion and had practically no money at all, might also find 
it intelligent to tolerate the whims of the solvent. 

He remembered another evening at the bar, when Hor- 
ace Giddings, an actor who had been visiting him, had 
raised some doubt in his mind about the real quality of 
what might be called privileged wit. There had been a 


crowd nearly three deep at the bar and getting drinks to 
bring back to their table had been a tiresome problem. 
Mr. Giddings had solved it briskly. Throughout the room 
there were a good many tables whose occupants were all 
male though their gaiety held a note of birds, and Mr. 
Giddings soon adopted the practice of waiting until a 
round of drinks had been secured for one of these and 
then approaching it courteously. 

"I'm sure you won't mind, old man," he'd say, putting 
down a dollar and picking up one of the glasses. "For a 
lady, you know." 

The owner had usually confined his protest to a rather 
breathless "Well," and the whole idea had seemed funny 
enough at the time, but now Mr. Crane remembered it 
with faint embarrassment. It would have been fine if one 
of them had taken a poke at Mr. Giddings, he thought, but, 
of course, he'd known damn well they wouldn't. However, 
Horace was a special case, an actor's actor; generally his 
friends had been admirable. He had a brief, self-conscious 
vision of himself as a rather distinguished figure in the com- 
munity; the senior member, you might say, of a pleasantly 
worldly group, augmented from time to time by urban 
celebrities, that still understood the value of the simple 
life and had adapted themselves to it gracefully, without 
perceptible condescension. 

Mr. Crane was brought out of these agreeable thoughts 
by the thunder of a wave and then a rush of water across 
his knees. "That was a hell of a big one," he said, bracing 
himself against the backwash. 

"I told you the tide was coming in," said his wife. "Want 
to turn around?" 

"No," he said. "Let's go a little further anyway." 

The wall of clouds had begun to cut across the bottom 
of the sun, which now shone level and blinding in their 

Crusoe's Footprint 2.17 

eyes. The wind had increased and the waves, which had 
been breaking on a bar about a hundred yards offshore, 
rolled across it, mounted as the still water piled up under 
them, hung suspended for an instant, and then broke tre- 
mendously, making the beach tremble under their feet. 
There had been more spectacular surfs that summer, but 
somehow none quite as ominous. These waves were not 
so much breakers as slow, enormous swellings of the sea. 
I don't know about any hurricane, he thought, but there's 
a hell of a storm out there somewhere. Mrs. Crane had 
been walking on a higher part of the beach, where it was 
still dry, and suddenly she stopped and looked down at 
something at her feet. 

"Hey," she called. "Somebody's shoes." 

He joined her and found a pair of moccasins lying 
neatly side by side on the sand. They were quite new and 
obviously feminine. 

"That's funny," he said. "Where do you suppose . . ." 
He picked one up and as he tilted it in his hand looking 
for a label, a woman's wristwatch slid down out of the 
toe. "Saks," he said. "E.M.K. on the back." 

There were a pair of sun-glasses in the other shoe and 
they, too, were impressive in design. From where they 
stood, they could look along the beach almost to the end 
of the island. There was no one in sight. 

"We didn't pass anybody coming up either," Mrs. Crane 
said. "I guess she must be lying up there behind the dunes." 

"Not around here," he said. "Not unless she flew. Look." 

The only footprints in the sand came from the east, from 
the direction of the lighthouse, and whoever made them 
had been wearing shoes. Obviously the woman had sat 
down where they were standing and taken them off. Be- 
yond these clear marks, there were only two or three bare 
prints in the sand, leading toward the ocean. As they 


watched, a wave came hissing up and washed a print away. 

"I'd better go and take a look anyway," said Mr. Crane 
uneasily. He walked across the narrowing strip of beach 
and clambered up one of the dunes. From the top of it, 
he could see the few houses that made up a settlement 
called Lonelyville scattered along the margin of the bay 
about a quarter of a mile away. No one was visible on the 
barren stretch of sand and marsh grass that lay between, 
but the land was hummocked with smaller dunes and it 
was possible that the woman was lying behind one of them. 
It was really absurd to think so, though, not only because 
of the absence of footprints up from the beach but also 
because the grass would have been wickedly sharp for 
anyone walking in bare feet, and even on the height where 
he stood the air was thick with gnats. He rejoined Mrs. 
Crane at the edge of the water. 

"No," he said. He looked again up the beach toward 
the lighthouse. There was always a chance that the woman 
had walked off in that direction barefoot and that the 
waves had washed away her prints, but there were a good 
many things against it — the moccasins and the watch left 
so near the water with the tide coming in so fast, the 
threatening storm (the sun by now was almost buried in 
the clouds), the beach clearly empty for at least three 

"Well," he said. He handed her his own watch and his 
cigarettes and matches. 

"She wouldn't still be out there, George," said Mrs. 

"I'll just go out to where they're breaking," he said. 

He started wading through the shallow, fast-running 
water. The footing was bad. There was a strong pull to 
the east, and the current was scooping out deep holes in 
the bottom. The ocean sucked at his knees, and shells, 

Crusoe's Footprint 219 

sliding along the bottom, pulled roughly across his ankles. 
As he got nearer to them, the waves began to seem enor- 
mous — tons of water lifting appallingly over his head, 
hanging in instant, incredible suspension, curling and crash- 
ing down in great smothered explosions. He struggled out 
to within four or five yards of where they were breaking, 
keeping his feet with difficulty and half-blinded by the 
spray as the wind tore it from the crests of the waves. The 
hell with it, he thought. Emily was right, there would be 
no chance of finding anything out here. He took another 
doubtful step and the bottom fell away under his feet, 
dropping him to his armpits in the water. As he turned to 
fight his way back, the current caught him and pulled him 
off balance, twisting him around so that again he was fac- 
ing out to sea. 

He saw the big wave coming and realized with horror 
that it was going to break almost exactly where he stoodc 
For a moment he stood idiotic with panic and then he 
threw himself forward and began to swim desperately to- 
ward it. He knew at the last second he was too late — the 
water around him was running swiftly uphill, sucked up- 
ward into the base of the wave — and he threw his arms 
around his head and tried to go under it. He saw the wave 
coming down and then it hit him, shook him with fierce, 
wrenching blows, ground him down to the bottom and 
dragged him furiously along it, flung him up in a boil of 
white water, threw him somehow to his feet, only to pull 
him down and roll him along the bottom again, in a night- 
mare of shells and sand and strangling water. He got up 
in the shallow water at last and stumbled up onto the 
beach. He heard Mrs. Crane's voice, but the roar in his 
ears and the floating white lights were too much for 
him and he put his head down between his knees. 

"Son of a bitch," he gasped finally. "That one got me." 


"Yes," she said. "You all right now?" 

"I guess so." He turned his arm over and found a long 
scratch from wrist to elbow. "God, look at that. You got 
the cigarettes?" 

"They're up the beach," she said. "You stay here. I'll 
get them for you." 

He smoked for a while in silence and then reached over 
and picked up the moccasins. "I guess the only thing to 
do is tell them at the Coast Guard," he said. 

"I suppose so," she said. "Do you want me to go? It's 
up back of the lighthouse, isn't it?" 

"That's right," he said. "No, we'll both go. Wait'll I finish 

Presently Mr. Crane threw the cigarette away and got 
up, and he and his wife started off for the lighthouse, 
still about three-quarters of a mile down the beach. The 
sun had disappeared behind the clouds, which now formed 
a black band halfway up the sky, and the wind was blow- 
ing much more strongly off the sea. Mrs. Crane estimated 
the width of the remaining beach. 

"We'll have to walk back on the dunes," she said. 

"Yeah, I guess so." 

He couldn't tell precisely what was in his mind. It 
seemed to him almost certain now that the woman was 
drowned and, in conjunction with his own experience in 
the water, the idea made him feel sick at his stomach. He 
was also disgusted with the emotions — an almost pleasur- 
able excitement, a sense of self-importance, though he had 
certainly had no heroic intentions — that he had felt when 
he waded out into the surf. He found he was shaking as he 
transferred the moccasins from one hand to the other. 

They had walked about a hundred yards when Mrs. 
Crane touched his arm. 

Crusoe's Footprint 221 

'Isn't that a jeep coming?" she asked. 

"Yes," he said. "Probably that's the Coast Guard now." 

The car was bouncing along by the water's edge, oc- 
casionally throwing out sheets of spray. Mrs. Crane began 
to wave and it slowed and soon pulled up beside them. 
The driver was very young, a self-possessed boy, with flank- 
ing ears and a sharp nose. His blue shirt was open at his 
mahogany throat and he wore his uniform cap jauntily, 
on the back of his head. There was a girl in a brief, black 
bathing suit on the seat beside him, and she, too, was 
young and quite handsome, though her face wore a sullen 
and arrogant expression, clearly habitual. 

"Something the matter, Jack?" asked the driver. 

Before Mr. Crane could answer, the girl leaned forward 
and stared at him with surprise. 

"Look," she said. "That man has my shoes." 

"Oh," he said, holding them out. "Are these yours? We 
found them on the beach. I was taking them to the Coast 
Guard Station." 

She held out her hand silently and Mr. Crane gave her 
the moccasins. 

"I had some glasses and a watch," she said with no 
particular expression. 

He had fogotten them but they were in his other hand 
and he extended them to her. 

"Yes," he said, "we found them, too." 

She inspected them carefully and there was a silence. 

"Well, thank you," she said at last. "I'm sorry I haven't 
got my purse, but if . . ." 

"For God's sake," he said with exasperation, "we thought 
you were drowned. We were on our way to get the Coast 

She looked surprised. "Oh," she said. "I'm sorry. But, of 
course, that was absurd. I was just walking down toward 


the Point and this man picked me up — because of the 

"Naturally,'' he said, but she clearly suspected no irony. 

"Well," she said. "It was very kind of you anyway." 

The driver had been listening to them impatiently and 
now he addressed Mr. Crane. "How'd you come to cut 
yourself, Jack?" he asked. 

"That? I got caught by a wave." 

"You mean you been in?" His tone was incredulous. "You 
oughta have sense not to go in a day like this." He looked 
at them curiously. "Say, where do you folks live?" 

"Ocean Beach," said Mr. Crane. "It's a couple of miles 
down the beach." 

"I know where Ocean Beach is at, Jack. Listen, you ain't 
going to get there walking, the way this ocean is." 

"Oh, we'll get there all right," said Mr. Crane, hoping 
he sounded airy. "We can walk on the dunes." 

"Don't you folks ever listen to the radio?" said the driver. 
"There's supposa be a hurricane coming up. You'd be in 
fine shape caught on this beach in a hurricane. Come on, 
you better get in here. I'll run you down." 

Mr. Crane protested, but without much conviction. The 
sky was definitely alarming now and the sea might easily 
be gathering itself for a really dangerous effort. He climbed 
in, followed by his wife, and they sat humbly together 
on the narrow seat in the back, hemmed in by tarry coils 
of rope and many cans of paint. As the car jounced along, 
throwing them from side to side and drenching them with 
spray, he felt as foolish as he ever had in his life. Gradu- 
ally, however, his embarrassment and indignation were suc- 
ceeded by an overpowering weariness, and when the jeep 
pulled up in front of his house, his head was on Mrs. 
Crane's shoulder and he was sound asleep. 

The Courtship of Milton Barker 

Milton Barker, the car checker, stood at the window, look- 
ing out at the freight yard. It was mid-April. A thin rain 
was blowing in from New York Harbor in little gusts and 
showers, filling the usual melancholy of the yard with fur- 
ther desolation. The dirt and cinders between the ties had 
turned to gray mud, and the smoke from a switching en- 
gine, idle in one of the leads, was flattened down by the 
rain and trailed off along the ground. The intricate steel 
towers that held the machinery for handling the car floats 
stood up dimly against the sky. Ben Rederson, the old 
switchman, went by with a lighted lantern, although it 
was only three o'clock in the afternoon. 

"God," said Milton Barker, and rubbed the pane where 
his breath had clouded it. 

The yardmaster looked up from the waybills he was 

"Some day, ain't it?" he said. 

"For ducks," said Milton, who was no man to slight a 


"You got no kick coming, sitting there on your fanetta," 
said Milton bitterly. "Take me, now." 

"I been out in plenty rain worse than this in my time," 
said the yardmaster. "Say, when I was braking on the 
Santa Fe . . ." 



Milton yawned. 

"O.K., Pop," he said. "You already told me." 

There was a potbellied stove in the middle of the office 
and a battered kettle on top of it. Milton took the kettle 
down and looked inside. 

"You want coffee?" 

"It's a pity one of you guys couldn't wash that pot once 
in a while," said the yardmaster. "It's got a cake inside of it, 
like in a pipe." 

"You drunk worse things, Pop," said Milton. 

He found a tin cup and a paper bag full of sugar in one 
of the lockers along the wall and took them to the stove. 
The coffee poured black and thick. Milton carried his cup 
over to the window and sat down. 

"How you like to be in Pom Beach, Pop?" he said, and 
when the yardmaster didn't answer, he found peace in the 
Daily Mirror. 

After a little while a telephone bell rang. 

"Get that, will you, Milty?" said the yardmaster. 

"Get it yourself," said Milton, who was reading with 
some dismay that a famous moving-picture star, weary of 
tinsel, had decided to immolate herself in a convent. 

"Listen, you," said the yardmaster. 

"All right, all right," said Milton, and reached over and 
picked up the telephone, though without removing his eyes 
from a photograph of the actress, taken in an earlier and 
more secular mood. "Harbor Yard." 

The telephone chattered and Milton, abandoning the 
paper, wrote as he listened. 

"Circus train . . . Layton & Crowley . . . Five p.m. from 
Greenville ... To lay over until nine a.m. . . . Yes, sir. 
. . . Yeah, I got it." 

He hung up the receiver and looked at the yardmaster. 

"Well, can you tie that?" he said. 

The Courtship of Milton Barker 225 

"Circus train?" asked the yardmaster. 

"Yeah. Layton & Crowley. That ain't one of the big ones, 
is it?" 

"Nah. A mud show. Plays like Lowell and Attleboro, 
them places." 

"Well anyway." 

"Five o'clock from Greenville? That means the float ought 
to get here around seven. Tell the yard crew it goes up in 
number three on the Hill." 


"And listen, Milty . . ." 


"It ain't like the Follies, see? I wouldn't be figuring on 
nothing if I was you." 

"You ain't talking to me, Pop," said Milton, and he went 
out to find the yard conductor. 

The circus train arrived on the float at half past six 
and by seven the yard engines had pulled it up on the 
Hill, where it was to lie until the following morning. Milton 
Barker, who had observed the cars sharply as they were 
pulled off the float, was able to report that nine of them 
were boxcars which presumably contained animals and 
stage properties, and that the tenth was a passenger coach 
which had its curtains drawn but must nevertheless con- 
tain the ladies and gentlemen of the cast. 

"It cert'n'y smells like a hell of a cheap circus," he now 
told the yardmaster, staring up toward the Hill, where the 
circus train lay between two lines of empty boxcars. 

"It's them elephants," said the yardmaster. "No matter 
what you do." 

Milton nodded. The commonplace aspect of the boxcars 
and their outrageous fragrance had left him feeling cheated 
and slightly empty. He took a pair of shears out of a table 


drawer and began to cut the picture of the actress out of 
the Mirror. Suddenly there was a knock at the yard-office 

"C'min!" he shouted. 

The door opened, letting in a gust of rain from the yard, 
and he looked up with annoyance. 

"Say, how's for . . ." 

He got no further because there were strangers in the 
doorway— two women and a man — and it was clear that 
they were not native to his world or even anything he 
could hope to classify from his previous experience. 

The man, who was carrying two empty buckets, was 
sheathed in a purple suit. It was an opium-eater's dream 
of a suit, with lapels that rose vivaciously into two points 
that menaced its wearer's ears; the openings of the pockets 
ran up and down instead of crosswise and they were 
trimmed with braid; the trousers, which constricted him 
too lovingly, terminated in a pair of long, narrow suede 
shoes, turning up at the ends like little skis. Beneath the 
upper part of these antic vestments he wore a checked vest 
of horrible design. His face was pale and, in relation to the 
rest of his body, much too large. The expression it wore 
was arrogant but harassed — Monseigneur taunted by the 
rabble. Like his two companions, he was damp from head 
to foot, and in the sudden warmth of the yard office he had 
begun to give off a frail steam. 

The two ladies each carried a bucket. They wore dresses 
which remained defiantly frilly in spite of the rain, and 
spoke somehow of the indolent South. Their faces, above 
this girlish finery and beneath two hats that were identical 
garlands of drenched flowers, were somewhat surprising. 
There was a prettiness about them, but it had a furious 
quality, a sort of triumphant ferocity. The ladies indeed 

The Courtship of Milton Barker 227 

looked as if they had just dispatched an enemy in a 
manner that had given them some dark pleasure and as if 
presently they hoped to do so again. They were almost 
exactly alike and it seemed reasonable to Milton to suppose 
that they were twins or at least sisters. 

"Was there something I could do for you?" he asked 

The three came forward and surrounded the stove. 

"You the yodmaster?" asked the man in a hoarse whis- 

"No," said Milton. "Him." 

"Oh," said the man. "One of the shacks told us we could 
get some drinking water." 

The yardmaster pointed to the washroom door. 

"Hep yourself," he said. "You folks with the circus?" 

"Yeah," said the man. He paused, clearly trying to think 
of something to say about the circus. 

"Go on, halfwit," said one of the ladies. "Get the water." 

"All right, Mildred," said the man sadly. "You don't have 
to holler." 

She looked at him somberly, and he picked up the four 
buckets and disappeared into the washroom. 

There was a silence in the yard office while the ladies 
steamed and brooded in front of the stove. Suddenly the air 
was filled with the smell of singeing cloth. 

"Now what the hell?" said one of them, sniffing sharply. 

"It's your skirt, Babe," said the one called Mildred. "It's 
on the stove." 

"Well, for God's sake," said Babe, though without any 
special emotion. With one accord, the ladies drew back 
from the stove and sat down on the edge of the table by the 
window. Their sultry eyes swung around the yard office 
and rested at last on Milton. 


"You," said Mildred. "What do you do here? What's 
your job?" 

"He's just the clerk," said Babe wearily. "Forget it." 

"Well," said Mildred, "he's better than the other one. 
That other one is dead, if you ast me." 

"Say," the yardmaster began, but he was chilled by then- 
bleak and impersonal stare, and subsided. 

"Listen," said Mildred to Milton. "You know where's a 
drink around here?" 

"I told you it's just the clerk," said Babe. "He wouldn't 
know. Strictly a dummy." 

"Gin or whiskey," said Mildred. "I wouldn't care." 

"Well," said Milton slowly, "there's no bars around here. 
You could ast at the lunch wagon. If they knew you. 

"They know you?" 


"What do they carry?" asked Babe. 

"Only grappa. It's some kind of a Greek drink." 

"Oh, my God," said Mildred. "Well, all right. Get two 
of them. Two bottles." 

"Well . . ." 

"It's all right. We'll give you the dough." 

"It ain't that," said Milton. "It's only I oughtn't to leave 
the yard." 

"We'll take care of the yard," said Babe. "You get the 

"You don't have to worry," said Mildred. "I'll handle 
any trains." 

They watched him as he shrugged into a raincoat and 
went out the door. "Hurry back, dear," said Mildred. 

Babe looked at the washroom door. 

"I think that bum is drowned," she said. "Your husband. 
I think he fell in." 

"Well, that would be O.K.," said Mildred. 

The Courtship of Milton Barker 229 

When Milton came back with the grappa, Mildred and 
Babe were still sitting on the table, and the man was stand- 
ing by the stove. The four buckets, full of water, were on 
the floor outside the washroom. The yardmaster was finish- 
ing a story. "So when she found out I didn't have no 
dough, she threw my shoes out of the window, right in the 
hobber." He looked at them, shaking with laughter. "Right 
in New York Hobber. I liked to died." 

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself," said Babe coldly. 
"And old dope like you." 

"Hello, dear," said Mildred to Milton. "Did you get it?" 

"Yes," he said. He took the two bottles out of the paper 
bag and put them on the table. The man picked one of 
them up and held it against the light. 

"What is it?" he asked. "Mule?" 

"Grappa," said Milton. 

"What's this grappa?" 

"You ought to know," said Mildred. "You're part Greek 
or something, ain't you?" 

"Ah, don't be like that, Millie," said the man. "I only 
ast him a question." 

He took the cork out and held the bottle up to his nose. 

"It don't smell much." 

"Well," said Milton, "a bomb don't smell either." 

"Listen, you can't drink that stuff in here," said the yard- 

"Why not?" said Mildred. 

"The superintendent is liable to show up any time," he 
said. "He's regularly down here every time we get a circus 

"Ah, tell him— " 

"No," said the man. "Wade a minute. Wade a minute. 
What would he do?" 


"Plenty," said the yardmaster. "Drinking on railroad 

"He can t do nothing to me," said Babe. 

"You want to try and tell that to the railway cops?" 

"Oh," said Babe. "Well, O.K." 

She looked at the four buckets. 

"Say, who's going to carry them things?" 

"Milty," said Mildred promptly. She put her arm through 
his. "Ain't you, Milty? Babe and I can each take one of the 
bottles and you and Stupid can carry the pails. We'll have a 
little drink up at the train." 

"Say, I'd like to," said Milton, "but I better not leave the 
office, had I, Pop?" 

"I don't care what you do," said the yardmaster. "I don't 
even care if they cut your throat." 

"See," said Mildred. "He says it's O.K. Come on, Milty." 

"Better leave me hold your watch," said the yardmaster. 

It was raining even harder as they started across the 
yard toward the Hill, where the circus train lay. The flood- 
lights on the float were enough to throw a pale gleam along 
the rails, but the ties were invisible, half drowned in the 
muddy water. Milton picked his way along them expertly, 
but he could hear Babe and the man with the other two pails 
stumbling and cursing up ahead in the darkness. Mildred 
came last and she too seemed to be having trouble and 
spoke sullenly about it. 

"You need to be a duck or something," she said. 

"Walk where I do," Milton told her. "Keep on the ties. 
I should of brung a flashlight." 

"That's right," she said bitterly. "Now is when to think 
about it." 

They were halfway up the Hill when she pulled at his 

The Courtship of Milton Barker 231 

"Let them go on ahead/' she said. 

"Why, what's the matter?" 

"I ain't taking drinks to all that mob," she said. "There's 
fifty of them in that car. We wouldn't get no more than a 
smell. We better drink it right here." 

"Listen," he said, with a daring that rather astonished 
him. "AH them boxcars alongside your train. They're empty. 
How about if we go and sit in one of them for a while?" 

"We-ell ..." 

"We could have a little talk," he said carelessly. "J ust tne 
two of us." 

"Why, Milty," she said, and laughed unreasonably in the 
darkness. "All right. Whatever you say." 

"Come on," he said. "Let's get going." 

They reached the top of the Hill and started down the 
black aisle between the circus train and the empties. 

"We better get far enough away from the passenger car," 
he said. "Some one of your friends might be coming out." 

"My!" she said. 

They had to walk single file between the cars. Mildred 
went ahead and Milton followed her with the buckets. It 
was very dark and the strangling smell of the animals was 
heavy in the air. Suddenly the night was split by hideous 
laughter; it was inhuman; the laughter of the demented or 
the damned. 

"Hey," said Milton. "What's that?" 

"It's only Orson Welles," she said. 


"The hyena. We call him Orson Welles." 


At last he stopped before one of the boxcars. The door 
was open and he peered inside. 


"This one looks all right," he said. 'It's got some hay in 

"You think we come far enough, dear?" she said with a 

"I guess so." 

"O.K. Hep me up." 

He boosted her in the car and then swung in himself, 
leaving the buckets outside on the ground. The car had ap- 
parently contained bricks, because the floor was covered 
with broken fragments and little piles of straw. Mildred 
kicked a pile of straw together against the wall facing the 
open door and sat down on it with a sigh. 

"My God," she said, "am I ever pooped." 

He sat down beside her on the straw. 

"Say, this is all right, ain't it?" he said. 

"Well, it's prolly better than the rain." She picked up the 
bottle and pulled out the cork with her teeth. 

"This had better be good," she said. 

She drank in the darkness and gave a little shiver. 

"You sure that Greek didn't make no mistake, Milty?" 
she said. "Like giving you kerosene or something?" 

"Let me see it," he said, and drank cautiously. "No, 
that's the grappa all right. It don't taste very hot, but it's 
got a wallop." 

"It better," she said. "Give us a cigarette, huh?" 

The match lit up the interior of the boxcar and even 
threw a brief yellow light on the car across the way. Milton 
noticed that the door of that was open, and there were 
bars across the opening. The car seemed to contain some 
kind of cage. In the flare of the match Milton thought he 
saw vague shadows, stirring enormously. 

"What's in there?" 

"Some one of the animals," she said indifferently. "I 
wouldn't know." 

The Courtship of Milton Barker 233 


Mildred drank again, deeply and this time without ap- 
parent displeasure. 

"Maybe you was right about this stuff," she said. "I be- 
gin to feel like I might live." 

"You better take it a little easy," he said. "It's stronger 
than you think if you ain't used to it." 

"Listen, Milty," she said. "You know what happened the 
last guy told me that? They had to scrape him off the 

"I'm only telling you," he said. 

She drank again. 

"No, that ain't bad stuff at all," she said gratefully,, "I 
got to remember to get some more of that stuff sometime. 
What did you say its name was?" 


"Grappa. I like it. Hey," she said with a sharp note of in- 
quiry in her voice. "What seems to be eating youF' 

Milton, who had put his arm cautiously around her 
shoulder, withdrew it. 

"Nothing," he said uneasily. "I only thought you might 
find it more comfortable." 

"Well, for the love of God," she said. "Milty the Raper." 

She laughed coarsely at this exhibition of poor taste and 
in the darkness Milton blushed. 

"All right," she said, relenting. "Go on, put it back, 
Milty. I ain't sore. It's only you surprised me." 

They sat for a little while in silence, in tentative em- 
brace. Mildred's face, lighted intermittently when she drew 
on her cigarette, seemed relaxed and peaceful, almost 
amiable. Milton, his eyes more accustomed to the darkness, 
could see the cage in the other car quite clearly now. There 
really was an animal in it, a big animal, pacing soft and 
deadly behind the bars. He could hear the sound of its 


heavy breath and the creaking of the cage when it threw 
its weight against the bars. The cage seemed to Milton a 
frail and ridiculous barrier for an animal that had really 
made up its mind to get out. 

"Say, what is that over there, anyway?" he asked nerv- 

Mildred glanced at the cage. 

"It looks like the lion," she said. "Yeah, that's what it is. 
Say, is he ever a crazy bastard." 

"How do you mean 'crazy'?" asked Milton with anxiety. 

"He gets in these crazy spells," she said. "You dassent get 
near him. Like the time he chewed up this fellow's arm." 

"He did?" 

"Like hamburger," said Mildred with satisfaction. 

"He didn't ever get loose, did he?" 

"Not yet. But he can give those bars hell when he gets 
in one of these crazy spells." 

The Hon had apparently noticed their voices, because he 
had stopped walking up and down in the cage and was 
standing facing the door. Milton could see his wild and 
luminous eyes searching the darkness. A growl, low and dis- 
tant like the roll of a train on a faraway bridge, began to 
stir in his throat. He was rapidly developing all the symp- 
toms of a crazy spell. 

"He ain't going to bother us," said Mildred, noticing 
that Milton seemed tense. "He's practically a tame lion 
compared to some of them." 

She drank again and then laid her head on Milton's 

"Listen, Milty," she said, and now unexpectedly there 
was pathos in her voice. "I guess you think I'm just a tramp, 
don't you? I guess you don't think much of a girl that 
would drink this grappa, laying around with a fellow in a 

The Courtship of Milton Barker 235 

boxcar. I guess that's what you been thinking about me, 
ain't it, Milty?" 

"I ain't given the topic so much as a thought," said 
Milton gallantly, though with a wary eye on the lion. 

"Shut up before I spit in your eye," said Mildred, ad- 
dressing the lion, which had begun to growl in earnest. 
"Listen, Milty, you try being a living statue off and on 
for ten years, and see how you like it. When I think the 
number of times I been Fame leading that God-damn 
horse. Maybe I ain't always been a plaster saint, but what 
the hell kind of a life is that for a girl, I ast you?" 

She drank, moodily. 

"Nobody is calling me no tramp," she said furiously. 
"That louse in Wilmington. I guess he ain't passing no 
more remarks about people being tramps." 

"Who?" said Milton. 

She must have been a volatile girl, because now she 
laughed merrily. 

"This fellow in Wilmington," she said. "Say, that was 
comical! This fellow was in the act, too. He was the Gen- 
eral — you know, sitting on the horse — when I was Fame. 
Well, one night we all get stiff in a bar and this fellow called 
Babe and me a tramp. We didn't say nothing at the time, 
but the next night when he's the General and I'm Fame 
and Babe is some kind of an angel or nimp or something 
laying on the ground behind the horse, she takes this big 
pin and sticks the horse in his backside. Well, I'm hardly out 
of the way before he's down off the stand and like a bat out 
of hell for the exit. The General can't hardly keep on a horse 
staying still, so he gets tossed off in one of the boxes. He 
busted four ribs. 

"Well," she said, with another of her dark and inex- 
plicable changes of mood, "I ain't a tramp, and I don't want 
to have to tell you again, Milty, that's all." 


"But I didn't— r 

"Let it pass," she said magnanimously. 

The rumble in the lion's throat had been growing stead- 
ily stronger and now it deepened into a passable roar. He 
flicked his paw tentatively at the bars, which rattled omi- 

"Pipe down, you," said Mildred. 

"Say, maybe we better — " 

"You, too, Milty," said Mildred, speaking with some 
difficulty because the neck of the bottle was in her mouth. 
"Both of you. Pipe down." 

There could be no mistake this time about the lion's 
roar, and he lunged heavily against the bars. 

"Well, for God's sake," said Mildred disgustedly. She had 
been smoking a cigarette, and when the lion roared again 
she threw it irritably toward the cage. 

"Lay down, screwball," she said. 

As Milton watched with dismay, the cigarette curved 
through the air, between the bars, and hit the lion sharply 
on the nose. A little shower of sparks enveloped his head, 
glowed, and went out. 

For a moment nothing happened, and then the lion ex- 
ploded. They could see him only dimly, a black and 
monstrous shape, tearing at the bars, but his intentions 
were clear and awful. The roaring had given way to a 
strangled, deadly snarl, and sometimes he spit like a cat. 
Beneath these louder sounds Milton could hear the even 
more paralyzing groan and creak of the tortured bars. 
Mildred added her own frail voice to bedlam. 

"Shut up, shut up, shut up!" she shouted. "Shut up, shut 
up, shut up!" 

"My God," whispered Milton, "he's breaking the damn 
thing down!" 

She didn't hear him or, hearing, paid no attention. 

The Courtship of Milton Barker 237 

"111 fix the crazy bastard!" she cried passionately, and 
while he watched in agony she scrambled down out of the 
car and picked up one of the buckets of water. 

Milton waited for no more. He vaulted down out of the 
car and fled desperately into the darkness. For a little 
while, as he ran, he could hear Mildred arguing with the 
lion, but presently all sound died away. It occurred to him 
that this might mean that the lion had got Mildred and 
was eating her. He thought of this gruesome possibility 
with horror, but there were other emotions, too. 

When Milton Barker got back to the yard office, hag- 
gard, panting, mysteriously encrusted with mud and straw, 
the yardmaster looked at him curiously. 

"Well, you cert'n'y ain't wasting no time, Milty," he said 
admiringly. "How'd you make out? Them babies treat you 
all right?" 

Milton gave him a secret smile, implying many fascinat- 
ing things. 

"What do you think, Pop?" he said darkly. 

Somewhere down in the yard Orson Welles laughed his 
mad, derisive laughter. 


"What a dame!" said the callboy, finishing his apple and 
throwing the core over his shoulder. "No sooner we fig- 
ure Baldy's checked in at the yard — I'd stopped in at his 
place to call him for the six-o'clock Fresh Pond — than I'm 
laying there on his sofa and she's pouring me out a hooker 
of rum." 

The yardmaster yawned. 

"Some night one of them shacks is going to get home 
early and kick your teeth in," he said. 

"Nuts to them," said the callboy. 

"All right," said the yardmaster, "I'm only telling you." 

It was eight o'clock. All the regular car floats had come 
in and the Brooklyn interchange yard was quiet except for 
the occasional cough and scuffle of a switch engine on the 
hill. Nothing was scheduled now until the midnight freight 
from New Haven got in with a train of refrigerator cars to 
be loaded on the floats and towed across New York Harbor 
to Greenville, where they'd be turned over to the Penn- 

"Stick on the phones, Al," said the yardmaster. "I'm going 
to lay down a while." 

He took off his coat, balled it up into a pillow, and put 
it on the table. He had scarcely laid his head on it before 
he seemed to be asleep. The callboy sat down at the yard- 


Feud 239 

master's desk and put his feet on the edge. He picked up 
the outside telephone and presently was connected with a 
lady called Myrtle, to whom he was able to speak frankly. 

"Why don't you lay off them tramps?" said the yard- 
master without opening his eyes. 

"You're a fine guy to be talking about tramps," said the 
callboy. "How about that big Swede I seen you with at the 
Coliseum? How about that dizzy — " 

"All right. All right," said the yardmaster. "Skip it." 

He turned over and this time actually slept. The callboy 
took a folded copy of the Journal out of his pocket and 
turned to "Popeye the Sailor." 

At nine o'clock there was a ring on the direct wire from 

"Bay Ridge," said the callboy. "O.K., Greenville, let's 
have it." 

"Penn floats five-o-three and five-o-six, tug twenty, leav- 
ing Greenville at — make it nine-o-five. Thirty-eight cars, 
one livestock for Manhasset," said the receiver hollowly. 

"What the hell kind of time is this to be sending out 
floats?" said the callboy indignantly. "Don't you guys ever 
give nobody a break?" 

"What's the matter, dear?" said Greenville solicitously. 
"Was you asleep?" 

"All right, wise guy," said the callboy, and hung up the 
receiver. It would take the floats about three-quarters of an 
hour to cross the harbor. When they got in, he would have 
to sort out the waybills, print destination cards from them, 
and then go out on the floats and tack the cards on their 
corresponding cars. In the dark this was a disagreeable and 
even a dangerous job. It was slippery on the icy floats, and 
the cars were lined up in three rows with barely enough 
space for a thin and active boy to move between. A checker 
carried his flashlight in one hand and a railroad spike and 


the stack of cards in the other. He kept the tacks in his 
mouth. Expert checkers were usually able to finish the floats 
before the switch engines came and began to pull the cars 
off, but sometimes the engines didn't allow enough time and 
the checker had to flatten himself against one row of cars 
while projections on the moving row scraped across his 
back. Livestock cars were worse because they were moved 
at once, and you could be sure the engines would be 
coupled on and pulling almost as soon as the floats were 
fast in the slips. 

"Lousy bastards," said the callboy, referring to the Penn- 
sylvania Railroad. 

At nine-thirty he went over and shook the yardmaster. 

"Come out of it, Jake," she said. "Floats on the way. They 
got cows." 

When the tugboat captain came in the office with the 
waybills, they found that the livestock car was far back in 
one of the middle rows, which, for a technical reason, is the 
most inaccessible position possible. 

"That's perfect," said the yardmaster bitterly. 

"Don't tell me about it," said the tugboat captain. "I 
don't load floats." 

As the callboy went down the yard toward the bridges, 
he could see that the two floats were already fast. The 
switch engines, then, were probably on their way down 
from the upper yard. He had arranged his cards in order, 
meaning to tag the cars in rotation, but now he decided to 
tag the livestock first. They'd switch that right out and 
take it away. He could get the others in the yard later if 
he had to. Float 503, which had the cattle car, was in the 
right-hand slip and he climbed up on it, lighting his flash- 
light. The passageway between the cars was even worse 
than usual because there was a thin sheen of ice on the 
deck of the float. 

Feud 241 

"Oh, sure," he said bitterly, starting to worm his way back 
to the livestock car. Its number was PRR 637601, and pres- 
ently he picked it out with his flashlight. As he started to 
hammer on his card, there was a stirring and grunting in 
the dark interior, and a piebald face peered at him through 
the wooden bars. The callboy looked at it nervously. 

"Go on, beat it," he said, "before I spit in your eye." 

He waved at the cow with his spike and it disappeared, 
snorting. The callboy put his flashlight up to the bars, 
illuminating the interior of the car. Eighteen or nineteen 
cows were standing together at the far end, their heads 
lowered, their eyes incandescent in the beam from the 
flashlight. He swung the flashlight around until it came to 
the floor of the car directly in front of him. Another cow 
was lying there, pressed against the side of the car. The 
callboy poked it gingerly with his spike. 

"All right, on your feet, sister," he said. 

The cow was motionless, however, and he poked it 
harder. Nothing happened, and he thrust his light through 
the bars and studied the cow more closely. It had, he saw 
now, a curiously flat and rigid appearance, and its eyes 
were closed. He focussed the flashlight on its ribs, and saw 
that there was no motion. The cow was dead, and there 
were indications that it had been dead for some time. 

"Ain't that something," said the callboy. He took a last 
look at the cow, and then squirmed back through the alley 
between the cars. The switch engine was just rumbling 
up on the lead to the bridge when he came out, the con- 
ductor waving it on with his lantern. The callboy went up 
to him. 

"Better hold it up, Eddie," he said. "One of them cows is 
stiff. I'm going in now to tell Jake." 

"Yeah?" said the conductor. "Well, we ain't got all night." 


"You got all night if Jake says so/' said the callboy, and 
went away, whistling. 

"Find it all right?" asked the yardmaster when the call- 
boy came in. 

"I found it," said the callboy, "but it ain't all right. One 
of 'em's dead." 

The yardmaster swore. 

"Did you look at it good?" he asked. 

"I smelled of it," said the callboy simply. 

"O.K. Go out and tell them shacks to pull five-o-three, 
switch out the cow car, and shove it back on the float. They 
can drag the rest of the cars up the yard. Ill talk to them 
dummies at Greenville." 

The callboy went out, and the yardmaster spun the crank 
on the direct wire to Greenville. 

"Hello, Maloney? Harvey. Listen, lug, I ain't running 
no tannery." 

"Tannery?" said Greenville, and laughed with a light 
assumption of bewilderment. "What do you mean you 
ain't running a tannery, Mr. Harvey?" 

"You know god-damn well what I mean," replied the 
yardmaster. "I mean I ain't got no use for any dead cows." 

"Dead cows?" said Greenville, still seeming bemused. 
"What dead cows?" 

"Nuts to you," said Harvey. "One of them cows is dead, 
and the tug is taking it back as fast as I can switch it out." 

"Oh, them cows," said Greenville. "Well, I'm afraid 
there's some mistake, Mr. Harvey. Them cows were in num- 
ber A-i shape when they left here. Prolly them gorillas of 
yours broke their necks switching them." 

"This cow has been dead a week," said Harvey. "It 

"They were fresh as daisies when they left here," said 
Greenville. "I seen them myself." 

Feud 243 

"Never mind about that," Harvey said. Tm only telling 
you the car is on its way back." 

Greenville became official. 

"You know we cant accept any dead cows, Mr. Harvey," 
he said. "You know we can't be liable just because you take 
some poor damn cow and bust its neck switching it." 

It was clear to the yardmaster that he was up against a 
more active mind, and he abandoned the unequal struggle. 

"I'm only telling you," he said, and hung up. 

PRR 637601 made four trips back and forth across the 
harbor that night. Harvey persistently refused to accept it 
at Bay Ridge; Greenville politely insisted that the cow was 
in perfect condition when it left him, that Harvey had 
broken its neck, and that he was now transparently trying 
to foist the damages on the Pennsylvania Railroad. The 
car came over with every consignment from Greenville, and 
each time it was switched out and sent back with the re- 
turning load. The yard crew, which had at first been in- 
clined to regard all this as a humorous variation of their 
routine, grew bored at length and complained that the cow 
was deteriorating rapidly and had indeed begun to affect 
their digestions. The surviving cows also appeared to suffer 
from their morbid ferrying, and lay trembling and panting 
on the floor of the car. 

At six o'clock the Long Island dispatcher at Jamaica 
called Harvey. 

"What in God's name are you monkeys doing down 
there?" he demanded. 

"Doing, sir?" repeated Harvey, who by this time had the 
sense that his mind was ticking like a bomb. 

"Yeah. I got eight interchange reports here, and the same 
damn car on every one of them. Penn 637601. It don't seem 
possible that you've got the same car from the Penn four 
times, and sent it back four times. I mean, it don't make 


sense that you've been shipping the same car back and forth 
across the harbor all night, but I'm damned if I know what 
else to make out of it." 

"No, that's right," said Harvey. 

"Well, for God's sake, why?" said the dispatcher. "You 
ain't doing it just for the fun, are you?" 

"No," said Harvey wearily. "It's on account one of them 
damn cows is dead." 


Harvey explained at length and bitterly about the dead 
cow, and the evidence that it had died while under the 
jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania Railroad, if not a long time 
before. The dispatcher listened, but not sympathetically. 
At the end, he said, "Well, I guess you finally gone screwy, 
Harvey, but that ain't the point. Who's got the car now?" 

"It's here," said Harvey hopelessly. "It just came in again 
on the five-thirty." 

"All right, get out there and dump that damn cow in the 
harbor. Then pick up the car and put it on the first freight 
you got out of there." 

"But— " 

"Never mind iDut/ God almighty, you want twenty dead 
cows on your hands? You think it's good for them other 
cows to be riding around the bay all night with a stiff?" 

"Yeah, but the Penn's got no right — " 

"We'll take care of the Penn. You get after them cows." 
Yes, sir. 

He called a brakeman and they went down to the float 
and found the car. Harvey broke the seals and pulled open 
the door, and, while the rest of the cows shuffled nervously, 
they rolled the dead cow out onto the float and then pushed 
it off into the water. It sank for a few seconds and then 
came up again, ten yards away, bobbing and twisting in the 
dirty current. Harvey watched it till it was out of sight, 

Feud 245 

then he turned and looked gloomily across the harbor to 
Greenville, where the Pennsylvania humorist was probably 
already aware of his victory, and prepared to make the 
deadly most of it. 

The Curious Incident of the Dogs 
in the Night-Time 

"This is a nice place, Freddy/' said Harrington, looking 
around the noisy, crowded room. "You come here often?" 

"I used to," said Goetz. "A few years ago, before I got 
married. Not any more. Ellen claimed it made her head 

"Oh," said Harrington. "That's quite a thing, you getting 
married," he said after a pause. "That's certainly one no- 
body ever figured on. What's she like?" 

"Ellen?" said Goetz. "She's a wonderful girl, Tom. I want 
you to meet her." 

"Swell," said Harrington. "We'll have to get together 
sometime. I'll get Jane." 

"Who?" said Goetz. 

"Jane Inman," said Harrington. "But on second thought 
I guess not. She's no girl if your head happens to hurt." 

The two men had been standing at the bar for about half 
an hour. When they came in, at seven-thirty, there had 
been no tables vacant, and the captain had suggested they 
have a drink while they were waiting. 

"Why don't you gentlemen just stand right up here to 
the bar," he had said. "I'll let you know the first moment 
there is anything free." 


The Curious Incident of the Dogs 247 

They were on their fourth Martini now, and in the silence 
following Harrington's last remark they were both sud- 
denly conscious of the passage of time. 

"Listen," said Goetz. "We ought to be sitting down pretty 
soon. Where the hell is that waiter?" 

"Over there," said Harrington. "Leaning up against some 
damn thing. Hey, captain." 

The captain moved slowly toward them. He had a pale, 
impassive face and an air of having formed a rather low 
opinion of his surroundings. 


"How about that table?" said Goetz. 

"Yeah," said Harrington. "How about us sitting down one 
of these days?" 

The captain looked around the room, tapping his fingers 
on the menu card in his hand. 

"I'm sorry, gentlemen," he said. "I still got nothing free. 
Ill let you know." 

"You said that before," said Harrington. 

"You gentlemen get the first table that's free." 

"All right, see that we do," said Harrington. 

"Yes, sir," said the captain contemptuously, and moved 

"Now you got him sore," said Goetz. 

"Good," said Harrington. "I'm sore, too. How about an- 
other drink?" He tapped on the bar. "Hey, a couple more 
Martinis here." 

"This is the one I don't need," said Goetz when the drink 

"What do you mean you don't need?" 

"The one that gets me drunk," said Goetz. 

"What's the matter with that? What are you saving your- 
self for, Freddy? You planning a career or something?" 

"Career, hell. I got to get up in the morning. I work!' 


"No. You're saving yourself. I know you married bas- 
tards. You plan ahead." 

"That's right, Tom," said Goetz pacifically. Tm planning 
a career. I want to be a waiter." 

"You're too old," said Harrington. "You got to start 
young in that business. You got to be born in a linen closet 
or some damn place. All the really great waiters have been 
born in linen closets. It's like those trunks in vaudeville." 

He was interrupted by the return of the captain, who 
gave them what he conceivably regarded as a smile. 

"I got that table now, gentlemen," he said. 

"Thank you," said Goetz, finishing his drink. "All right, 
Tom, let's go." 

"Just a minute," said Harrington. "I wonder if I could put 
a question." 

"Yes, sir?" 

"This gentleman and I were having a little argument. I 
wonder if you'd mind telling us if you happened to be born 
in a closet." 

"Sir?" said the captain, looking at him sharply. 

"Never mind, captain," said Goetz. "You just show us 
that table." 

"All right, you drunken half-wits," said the captain's ex- 
pression quite plainly, but aloud he only said, "This way, 
gentlemen," and led them to the table, which was off in one 
corner of the room. At his signal, a waiter came up and 
handed them each a menu. 

"We better have another drink first," said Harrington. 
"Bring us a couple of Martinis. No, you better make that 
double Martinis. Two double Martinis." 

"Two double Martinis," said the waiter, and left them. 

"That's a good man," said Harrington. "Knows how to 
take an order." 

The Curious Incident of the Dogs 249 

"Listen, Tom, how about taking it easy? You're getting 
pretty soused." 

"You don't know what soused is" said Harrington. He 
concentrated on the menu, shutting one eye. "Say, what 
is all this stuff? What nationality?" 

"Italian," said Goetz. 

"Well, it's a terrible language," said Harrington. "You 
know what I want? Just some eggs. Some scrambled eggs." 

"I'm going to have the cacciatore. They do that pretty 
well here." 

"They do, do they?" said Harrington. "You know some- 
thing about you, Freddy? You talk like a God-damn 

The drinks came and they gave their order. 

"Some pretty interesting people used to come here, Tom," 
said Goetz. "The Baker Street Irregulars." 

"Who?" asked Harrington. 

"The Baker Street Irregulars. The Sherlock Holmes ex- 
perts. You know." 

"Oh," said Harrington. "Yeah, I guess I read about them. 
Woollcott or somebody. This where they met, eh?" 

"They did when I used to come here. Here or someplace 
very much like here. Maybe they still do. Woollcott, Mor- 
ley, Tunney, Elmer Davis, some guy called Starrett — oh, a 
lot of 'em." 

"That's a lovely bunch of boys," said Harrington. "What 
did they do? All I remember is they wore funny hats." 

"They used to ask each other questions," said Goetz. 
"You know, about the stories. Like the name of the dog in 
'The Sign of the Four.' " 

"Toby," said Harrington promptly. "A lurcher, whatever 
the hell that is. And it's 'The Sign of Four.' No second 


"The hell it is," said Goetz. 

"All right," said Harrington. "Look it up. 'The Sign of 
Four/ 1 got five bucks says no second 'the/ " 

'Til take your word for it." 

"You better. All right, ask me another. Ask me anything. 
Any of the stories. No, 111 ask you. What's a Penang law- 

"Cane," said Goetz. "Dr. Mortimer carried it in 'The 
Hound of the Baskervilles.' Dr. James Mortimer, M.R.C.S." 

"All right," said Harrington. "How many orange pips? 
How many Napoleons?" 

"Five and six," said Goetz. "In that order. For God's sake, 
is that the best you can do? How about three stories with 
'three' in the title?" 

"Well, there's one with a funny word in it," said Har- 
rington. " 'Garribeds'? No, 'Garridebs.' 'The Adventure of 
the Three Garridebs.' " 

«ml . » » 

That s one. 

There was a long silence while Harrington stared at the 

"O.K., Freddy," he said finally. "You win on that one. I 
give up." 

"'The Three Students' and 'The Three Gables,'" said 
Goetz. "You're a hell of an expert if you don't know that." 

The two friends went on like that for some time. Goetz 
horrified Harrington by not remembering that the villain of 
"The Speckled Band" was called Dr. Grimesby Roylott, 
and somehow or other Harrington missed on the last name 
of Jefferson Hope's fiancee, which, of course, was Ferrier, 
but on the whole they did remarkably well. Time passed, 
and though the eggs and the cacciatore remained sub- 
stantially untouched on their plates, the double Martinis 
continued to arrive and vanish. 

The Curious Incident of the Dogs 251 

"Listen," said Goetz suddenly at ten o'clock, "maybe they 
still come here." 

"Who?" said Harrington. 

"The Baker Street Irregulars," said Goetz, managing so 
many consonants very successfully, all things considered. 
"Maybe they're here right now." 

"Those sons of bitches," said Harrington. "A lot they 
know about it." 

"Sure they do," said Goetz. "They write articles." 

"Not Tunney," said Harrington. "He's no writer. He just 
reads. Mostly Shakespeare." 

"Well, all the rest, then." 

They considered this briefly, and Harrington snapped his 
fingers. "Test 'em," he said. 


"We go up and test 'em." 

"Find out they here first," said Goetz. 

"Sure," said Harrington. "Find out. Ask him. Hey, 

The waiter came over reluctantly, for he had been in- 
structed to serve no more double Martinis and he saw 
trouble ahead. 


"You got a meeting here tonight, waiter?" said Goetz. 


For a moment, the name of the Holmes admirers es- 
caped Harrington. "Bunch of boys with funny hats," he 
said. "Ask each other questions." 

"There's some fellas upstairs," said the waiter. "Some 
society. I don't know about the rest of it." 

"Called Baker Street Irregulars," said Goetz. By this 
time, however, the Martinis had got in their work and his 
speech was somewhat blurred. 


"Some name like that," agreed the waiter. "Some so- 

"Whereabouts?" said Harrington. "What floor?" 

"Right up at the head of the stairs," said the waiter, and 
then, belatedly grasping their intention, "It's a private 
party though, sir." 

"It's all right," said Harrington, getting to his feet. "We're 

"Old friends," said Goetz, also rising. "Fellow-members." 

"Well . . ." said the waiter doubtfully. 

"Old, old friends. Don't give it a second thought," said 
Harrington. "Dismiss it from your mind. Here, let's have 
the check." 

The waiter produced the check from somewhere inside 
his coat and added it rapidly. The total came to twenty- 
three dollars and twenty cents, and Harrington gave him 
three tens. 

"O.K.," he said. "You keep that." 

"Thank you, sir," said the waiter. There was still a 
doubtful expression on his face as his customers started 
across the room but he made no effort to detain them or to 
communicate with the captain, who would certainly have 
been opposed to the project they had in mind. 

Goetz and Harrington turned to the right when they left 
the dining room and started up the stairs. 

"Listen," said Goetz when they were halfway up. "Who 
you going to be?" 


"Yes. I just remembered they all pretend to be somebody. 
Some character in the stories." 

"All right," said Harrington. "I'm Holmes. You're Wat- 

"Too obvious," said Goetz. "Anyway, they must have a 

The Curious Incident of the Dogs 253 

Holmes and Watson. Probably the president and vice-presi- 

"All right," said Harrington. "Mrs. Watson. Mrs. Watson 
and Mrs. Hudson." 

"No," said Goetz. "It isn't that kind of kidding. You got to 
stick to the right sex." 

"Mycroft and Pycroft," said Harrington. "Addison and 
Steele. Gallagher and Shean." He laughed immoderately, 
holding onto the railing along the wall, but Goetz was not 

"No, the hell with that kind of stuff, Tom," he said. "Lis- 
ten, how about Gregson and Lestrade?" 

"Those dumb bastards," said Harrington. "No. I tell you 
— Moriarty and Moran. First and second most dangerous 
men in London." 

"Good," said Goetz. "Which one you want? First or sec- 
ond most dangerous?" 

"Moriarty," said Harrington. "First most dangerous. Nat- 

Since one of the two doors at the top of the stairs was 
labelled "Men," they turned to the other. 

"After you, Professor," said Goetz. 

"Thank you, Colonel," said Harrington, and flung open 
the door. 

There were perhaps twenty men in the small room. They 
were sitting at a long table and they appeared to be en- 
gaged in some general and earnest discussion. They wore 
no hats. Except for the table and the chairs, there was 
nothing in the room but a small piano, off in one corner. 

"Gentlemen," said Harrington. "The chase is on!" 

A silence fell on the room, and then a small, red-faced 
man got up from the table and approached Goetz and Har- 
rington. He had on a rather jocular suit, but his manner 
was formal. "Some mistake, fellows, I think," he said. 


"Not at all," said Harrington. He waved his hand at 
Goetz. "Like you to meet Colonel Sebastian Moran, late of 
the ist Bangalore Pioneers. I'm Professor Moriarty." 

"Of Reichenbach Falls/' said Goetz. "Who are you sup- 
posed to be?" 

The red-faced man cleared his throat. "Well, I'm Ed 
Tracy, of Denver," he said, "but — " 

Goetz looked inquiringly at Harrington. "How about 
it?" he said. "You know that one?" 

Harrington shook his head. "Might be 'A Study in Scar- 
let/ " he said doubtfully. "One of the Mormons. I don't 
remember him, though." 

"I told you these boys made it tough," said Goetz. "All 
right," he said to the red-faced man, who had begun to 
wear a hunted look. "We give up. What story?" 

"I don't know what you fellows are talking about," said 
the man helplessly. "This is a private party." 

"I know," said Goetz. "We just thought we'd drop in. 
Great admirers." 

"Disciples," said Harrington. He spoke thickly, and 
Goetz was surprised to see that his face was pale and 
beaded with perspiration. 

"You O.K., Professor?" he asked. 

"No," said Harrington simply. "Better sit down a min- 
ute. Better lie down." 

He swayed visibly as he spoke, and Goetz caught his 

"You going to be sick?" he demanded. 

Harrington shook his head and then rose to a kind of 
heroism in his extremity. 

"No," he muttered. "Just a touch of enteric. Old trou- 
ble of mine. Ever since Ladysmith." 

His appearance actually was alarming, and between 
them Goetz and the red-faced man got him to a chair at 

The Curious Incident of the Dogs 255 

the table. The other guests looked at him with a mixture 
of apprehension and respect. 

"What's the matter with him?" said one of them. 

"Enteric," said Goetz. "The curse of our Indian posses- 

"Yeah? What does he do for it?" 

"Whiskey," said Harrington in a much stronger voice. 
"Only known cure for enteric. The Fuzzies live on it." 

A bottle and a glass stood on the table near him, and 
without waiting for an invitation he poured himself a 
rather staggering drink. After a moment's hesitation, Goetz 
did likewise. Then, suddenly and simultaneously inspired, 
they raised their glasses in the air. 

"To the Woman," said Harrington solemnly. 

"To the Woman," repeated Goetz. "To Irene Adler." 

The two emptied their glasses and, still in unison, they 
sent them both crashing to the floor. 

"Listen, fellows," said the red-faced man. "Flease." 

Afterward, Goetz had no very clear memory of the rest 
of the evening. Sometimes, in the tormented and fragmen- 
tary glimpses he got, he seemed to be shouting at a table 
of men who retreated from him, gradually and indignantly, 
until he was left alone at one end with Harrington, who 
sometimes shouted, too, and sometimes just slept. Some- 
times he must have realized that these were not Sherlock 
Holmes experts, as the waiter and his own romantic heart 
had somehow led him to believe, but instead simply the 
innocent conclave of roofing experts from the West that 
their appearance and conversation indicated that they 
were. If he did occasionally recognize this for the discour- 
aging truth, however, he never did so for long, and there 
were considerable periods when, noisily abetted by Har- 


rington, he tried to force them into the shape of the Baker 
Street Irregulars, harassing them with unanswerable ques- 
tions about the second Mrs. Watson and the Diogenes 
Club and whether Holmes went to Oxford or Cambridge. 
Once, he recalled, a waiter had been summoned and there 
had been some talk about putting them out, but that mys- 
teriously had passed and there had been an interlude of 
great good will, when scrawled cards and promises of fu- 
ture gaiety were exchanged. 

Goetz's only exact picture, as a matter of fact, was of 
the end of the evening. Harrington, somehow miraculously 
resuscitated, was seated at the piano and they were both 
singing, and it was his impression that they had been doing 
so for some time. He had looked up suddenly — this vision 
was as sharp as a photograph — and seen, to his perplexity, 
a line of figures, led by the red-faced man, tiptoeing from 
the room. After that, there was only the empty room and 
Harrington shouting and banging on the piano. Roofers or 
Baker Street Irregulars, the guests had gone, and they were 
all alone. His memory stopped there. 

The Crusaders 

On Thursday, Ralph Breck insulted Ellen Major for per- 
haps the fifteenth time that month. She would never have 
mentioned it to anybody herself, because she was that 
rather anachronistic and touching thing, a lady, and she 
wished to enjoy no special immunity on account of her 
sex. However, the walls of Breck's office were thin, and his 
secretary, who was subsequently replaced, was of a con- 
fiding disposition, and it wasn't long before the story got 
around. It seemed that Ellen had gone in with the proof 
of an advertisement for her employer's approval. The ear- 
lier part of the conversation had been amiable, or at least 
inaudible, but Breck's voice had risen toward the end. It 
had been rough and hectoring, and punctuated with jar- 
ring laughter. 

"He sounded even more horrible than usual," the secre- 
tary testified. 

Anyway, his final remark had been quite clear, and the 
secretary was able to report it verbatim. 

"What the hell do you think this joint is?" Breck had 
shouted. "A God-damn kindergarten?" 

Ellen had left the office rather pink and with tears of 
vexation in her lovely eyes. 

Inevitably, this disagreeable episode soon came to the 
ears of three of Ellen's fellow copy writers, all of whom re- 



garded her with respect, admiration, and hope untinged 
with vulgarity. This trio was composed of Alfred Mitchell, 
who might easily have been a poet in a sunnier climate and 
a more tranquil age; Henry Abbott, who was perhaps the 
most promising of all the younger men; and Elliott Fox, who 
had been very recently graduated by the Harvard Business 
School. Each of the three had suffered in his time from 
Breck's intractable disposition, which was, indeed, often 
indistinguishable from lunacy, but, being male, they were 
not disturbed by the steady, unaccented flow of blasphemy, 
and occasional obscenity, that passed with their employer 
for conversation. They pitied him for his poverty of expres- 
sion, but since they also had the highest regard for his 
judgment, they were able to condone it, and even to find 
some entertainment in it. 

With Ellen, however, things were, of course, quite differ- 
ent. The three men had come of age in a time of ever re- 
laxing social standards, when a good many pedestals had 
been almost chipped away, but it still affected them un- 
pleasantly to realize that Breck was in the habit of speaking 
to Ellen almost precisely as he spoke to them. They ac- 
cepted this circumstance without comment for some time, 
hoping that Ellen's obvious gentility, her valiantly if unsuc- 
cessfully concealed discomfort when certain words were 
employed in her presence, would cause Breck to mend his 
ways. Their hope was vain. It may have been that Breck, 
aware of Ellen's embarrassment, honestly tried to restrain 
himself with her but that, being a man of drastically 
limited vocabulary, he was able to find no other words for 
those he was in the habit of using. Or it may have been 
that, quite aware of causing pain, he took a certain adoles- 
cent pleasure in continuing to do so. In any case, instead 
of improving, his behavior toward Ellen deteriorated rap- 
idly. Mitchell, Abbott, and Fox watched with dismay as 

The Crusaders 259 

Breck forgot himself with growing frequency and abandon, 
and as Ellen came to look more and more apprehensive and 
wistful. She had even, they couldn't help noticing, begun to 
lose confidence in those little mannerisms that had so en- 
deared her to them all. For a long time, they hesitated to 
act, but Thursday's episode, coming, as it did, as the climax 
of a month of ever more aggressive assaults on her modesty, 
proved to be too much. 

"I guess we're going to have to do something," Abbott 
said as the three gathered that night in a neighboring bar. 
"He can't go on treating her like this." 

"I know," said Mitchell. "It isn't as if she was any damn 
woman. She feels that kind of stuff." 

"You can count me in on this, fellows," said young Fox. 

It was as a result of this conversation that the friends 
found themselves in the elevator on their way up to 
Breck's apartment on Saturday night. They had had dinner 
together and discussed the line they planned to take in in- 
sisting that their employer conduct himself in a more 
decorous manner. 

"We'll have to be firm," said Mitchell as the car creaked 

"Yes," said Abbott. "Did he seem surprised when you 
telephoned him? Do you suppose he knows what we're 
coming about?" 

"I don't think so," said Mitchell. "I didn't tell him, of 
course. I just said we wanted to talk to him." 

"Good," said Abbott. "It may be helpful if he's sur- 

"Does Ellen know anything about this?" asked Fox. 

"I mentioned it to her," said Mitchell. 

"Oh," said the younger man, looking at him with faint 


The door of the automatic elevator opened, and so, pres- 
ently, did that of Breck's apartment. 

"Hello, boys," he said. "Come in. Throw your stuff any 
damn place. Sit down." 

They did so, and looked around the room, which was, in- 
deed, a rather accurate reflection of their employer's bizarre 
personality. He had taken the apartment furnished, they 
knew, but the expensive reticence of the sofas, chairs, ta- 
bles, and lamps had long since been overlaid with mani- 
festations of a less coherent taste. The walls were covered 
with pictures — photographs of Breck's friends, usually in 
dissolute postures and facetiously inscribed; paintings and 
engravings that ranged erratically from kittens at play and 
young women enjoying the sun to tortured El Grecos and 
smoldering Gauguins; a color proof of an advertisement 
that an unfortunate slip of the engraver's tool had turned 
into a classic of impropriety. Books, also wildly various in 
subject matter, were piled everywhere, and there was a 
snowdrift of papers down from the chairs and tables across 
the floor. The proprietor himself was rather perplexingly 
arrayed. He had on the bottoms of a pair of pajamas, slip- 
pers, and the remnant of a panama hat. It occurred to his 
guests that he looked annoyingly frivolous, considering the 
nature of their errand. 

Drinks were distributed, and for a time they sipped them 
in silence. 

At last Mitchell cleared his throat and addressed Breck. 
"I'm afraid we've got a little problem, Ralph," he said. 

"Well, who the hell hasn't?" said Breck, looking at him 

"It's a little hard — " Mitchell began again, but before he 
could get any further he was interrupted by a strange and 
violent commotion in the wall behind his head — a thin 
whine of gears and the clanking of heavy chains. 

The Crusaders 261 

"Problems," said Breck when this had died away. "You 
think you got problems. You hear that God-damn thing?" 
He gestured at the wall. "The lousy elevator. It does that all 
night. Right beside my bed. The little white Jesus knows 
the last time I got in a night's sleep." 

"It's quite a noise," said Mitchell. 

"Son of a bitch if it isn't," said Breck. "It's driving me 
nuts, Al." 

"Well," said Abbott after a decent interval, "we wanted 
to talk to you about the office. That is — " 

"The office?" said Breck. "You don't have to tell me 
about that office. I've worked there for fifteen godforsaken 
years. I've turned into a sick and beaten old man in that 
office. I used to have an appetite, Hank. I used to eat like 
other men. What do I live on now? Soup. No stomach, no 
teeth. I lost them in that office." 

"Maybe you need a vacation, Ralph," said Abbott. 

"Sure," said Breck. "And who's going to run the stink- 
ing joint? Except for you boys, what have I got? Women 
and children. God on a velocipede, women!" 

"Maybe it's a little tough on women, too, Mr. Breck," 
said Fox. 

Breck gave him a brief, sardonic smile. "Everything is 
tough on women, my boy," he said. "They make a career 
of having things tough. You know what Mark Twain said 
about women?" 

"I'm afraid I don't," said Fox. 

"He said they were beautiful creatures with pains in 
their backs," said Breck. "He had it right." 

"Still," said Mitchell. "Well, in the case we wanted to talk 
to you about — " 

"I don't know what the hell case you're talking about," 
said Breck. "There are all kinds of cases. You take my God- 
damn sister Muriel." 


"We wanted to ask — " 

"She keeps getting herself locked up/' said Breck. "As a 
matter of fact, she's locked up right now. I don't suppose 
you knew that?" 

"No, I hadn't heard," said Abbott, "but—" 

"Well, she is," said Breck. "Some place up around Bridge- 
port. There's nothing the matter with her. Just every so 
often she feels she has to put herself away in one of these 
joints. She gets feeling picturesque or some God-damn 
thing and she slopes off to one of these joints. I wouldn't 
give a damn — it's her dough — except she keeps telling 
them I'm crazy. Maybe I am. You don't eat or sleep long 
enough, anybody is apt to go nuts." 

While he stared at them defiantly, the elevator went up 
and down again in the wall, clanking and groaning, sending 
a small, unpleasant vibration through the apartment. 

"What we came up about, Ralph — " said Mitchell uncer- 
tainly when the sound had ceased. 

"Excuse me, Al," said Breck. He picked up a little bottle 
from a table beside him and shook a pill out onto his palm. 
"Supposed to quiet me," he said when he had swallowed 

"You ought to be careful with those things, Ralph," said 
Abbott. "You can get dependent on that kind of stuff." 

"Yeah, I know it," said Breck. "But what the hell. Drink- 
ing is no good. I've tried that. I don't get drunk. I just get 

"Well, you ought to watch it, anyway," said Mitchell. 

"A man has to relax," said Breck. "One way or another. 
You know that, Al." 

"I know," said Mitchell. 

"It's tough, Ralph," said Abbott. 

"It sure is," said Fox. 

"I'm thirty-seven years old," said Breck. "Supposed to be 

The Crusaders 263 

the prime of a man's life. That's a laugh. Look at me. I live 
on soup and sleeping pills. For all I know, I ought to change 
places with Muriel." 

"You do look kind of tired, Ralph," said Abbott. 

"Tired?" said Breck. "God!" 

"You ought to try and get some sleep, kid," said Mitchell. 

"I don't know," said Breck. "Maybe I can. I feel as if 
maybe I might tonight." He yawned and closed his eyes, 
but opened them again almost instantly. 

"But hell," he said, "you boys wanted to see me about 
something. What's on your mind, Al?" 

"Ah, let it go, boy," said Mitchell. "We can take it up 
some other time." 

"Sure, Ralph," said Abbott. "You just get your sleep." 

"It wasn't important, sir," said Fox. "You get some 

"Thanks," said Breck. "Perhaps I will. Well, good night, 
boys. Thanks for dropping around." 

He yawned again as he showed them to the door. 

It was some time before a cab came, and as they waited 
for it on the curb, they avoided one another's eyes. 

"Poor guy," said Fox, tentatively, at last. "I hope he 
gets some sleep." 

"Sure," said Abbott. He paused and slowly shook his 
head. "He seems to eat all right, though," he said. "At least 
whenever I'm with him." 

"You're damn right he does," said Mitchell. Then he, too, 
stopped and stared off down the street. "I wonder . . ." he 
began again. 

"So do I," said Abbott. 

"You wonder what?" asked Fox. 

"If the son of a bitch has really got a. sister," said Abbott. 
"So do I." 


The Country of the Blind 

From early December, 1944, until September, 1945, I 
was employed to review moving pictures for a magazine of 
modest but genteel circulation. It was a makeshift arrange- 
ment, brought about by the war, and long before the ten 
months were over, both the editors and I were aware that 
a mistake had been made. Nothing was actually said, but 
there was an air of constraint and embarrassment, rather 
as if we had both made up our minds to ignore the fact 
that I had suddenly developed a slight impediment in my 
speech, and when in a moody moment I resigned, every- 
body was visibly relieved. Since the subscribers gave no 
indication of either agreeing or disagreeing with anything 
I wrote, it seemed permissible to deduce that they hadn't 
bothered to read it. The only comment from the profes- 
sion appeared in a screen writers' trade-paper on the Coast. 
It compared me sardonically with Marcel Proust, the idea 
being that I gave the impression of operating from an in- 
sulated cell, in a very fancy atmosphere of anemia and 
corruption. Since one of my colleagues was described as 
writing as if his upper plate had worked loose, however, it 
was possible to regard this as a compliment. 

The purpose of this essay is to explain, as clearly as I 
can and while certain memories are still green, why it 
seems to me that the cinema resists rational criticism al- 



most as firmly as a six-day bicycle race, or perhaps love. 
I am conscious of the danger of generalizing too freely 
from a very brief experience and also of stating some things 
that are both obvious and highly prejudiced. However, it's 
a chance I'll have to take, and it is my indignant opinion 
that ninety percent of the moving pictures exhibited in 
America are so vulgar, witless, and dull that it is preposter- 
ous to write about them in any publication not intended to 
be read while chewing gum. The exceptions to this indict- 
ment are the documentaries, which have of course, only 
very limited opportunities to distort life; frank melodramas, 
which have nothing to do with life and are therefore ex- 
empt from criticism; and the occasional pictures, one or 
two a year at most, which defiantly photograph some rec- 
ognizable fragment of our common experience and gen- 
erally lose a good deal of money. They are so few that 
obviously no one could hope to find regular employment 
writing about them, and consequently they can be ignored 

The explanation of the ninety percent is so elementary 
and it has been offered so many times that it needn't de- 
tain us long. The cinema is a medium of entertainment 
economically feasible only if it can be sold to an audience 
of probably a hundred million in this country and God 
knows how many more in the rest of the hemisphere and 
across the sea. It must, of course, be intelligible to a vast 
majority of these people. The common level of intelligence 
in the world is presumably that of the normal adolescent, 
who has no need or ability to relate the parts to the whole, 
or the present to the total stretch of time. To him, that is, a 
baby is a baby, cute and permanent; it has no future and 
there are no conclusions to be drawn from it. (The per- 
sistent survival of Jackie Coogan as a middle-aged man, 
with a divorce and thinning hair, incidentally, often has 

The Country of the Blind 269 

an unnerving effect on lady cinema patrons, though they 
are only vaguely aware of him as a symbol of their own 
continuity.) The level of formal education, of course, is 
even lower, so that any system of civilized reference is 
obviously out of the question. To get in a picture, Homer 
and Emerson must first be suitably defined, in words of not 
too many syllables. 

The third factor that has to be considered in this univer- 
sal audience is the manner of life to which it is accus- 
tomed; its incredible extremes of wealth and poverty, its 
varying social concepts, and its differences in language, 
technical progress, and even climate and clothes. To 
some extent, Hollywood has succeeded in imposing its own 
vision of life on the world, so that a cocktail party on Park 
Avenue need no longer be entirely mysterious to an Es- 
kimo. However, while the cocktail party has gone far be- 
yond life in gaiety and magnificence since people can be 
taught to accept almost anything visually, it has been 
necessary to scale it down almost to imbecility in behavior 
since nobody can be expected to recognize a system of 
conduct or conversation that has its roots in a more elabo- 
rate background than his own. The result of all this is that 
very little seen or heard on the screen is precisely a picture 
of anything. 

As if these handicaps were not enough, a series of strict, 
external codes, governing their political and moral con- 
tent, have been imposed on the films either by organized 
pressure groups or else by unorganized but highly vocal 
minorities with a taste for out-size fig leaves. This makes it 
impracticable to name political philosophies or explain 
what they stand for, to discuss religion in any terms con- 
ceivably startling to the inmates of a parochial school or a 
Baptist seminary, to speak disparagingly of any specific 
business, except perhaps dope-running or the white-slave 


trade, or to deal with sex in any way that might indicate 
that minor irregularities are not necessarily punishable by 
a lifetime of social ostracism and a lonely and untended 
grave. Hollywood, of course, did not frame these rules, 
but its own earlier excesses of vulgarity (not frankness or 
daring) were responsible for their existence in the first 
place, and it has not been noticeably heroic in combating 
them up to now. 

Given all these restrictions, whether imposed by financial 
considerations or the Hays (now Johnston) Office, it is in- 
evitable that the moving pictures should be just what they 
are — an astounding parody of life devoted to a society in 
which anything is physically and materially possible, in- 
cluding perfect happiness, to a race of people who operate 
intellectually on the level of the New York Daily News, 
morally on that of Dayton, Tennessee, and politically and 
economically in a total vacuum. I know, of course, that 
there are a great many pictures, usually "sophisticated" 
comedies or glum dramas of the soil, that seem to exceed 
this definition. It is only an illusion, however, though often 
an extremely clever one. Close attention will inevitably 
prove that no rules have been broken, that no sinister 
worldling ever says anything that would be essentially sur- 
prising from your grandmother, that no doomed share- 
cropper ever really criticizes anything more specific than 
the climate. 

How the conscientious reviewer writes about the so- 
called A pictures (those that cost more than a million 
dollars to produce) is a small but fascinating literary 
comedy. Aware that he is dealing with names that are 
household words from Newark to Bangkok, with minds 
that command up to five thousand dollars a week for their 
power and agility, and with budgets that rival the national 

The Country of the Blind 271 

debt, he gets an uneasy feeling that such massive vulgarity 
somehow requires massive treatment, though those are not 
perhaps quite the words he'd use. Pictures are good or 
bad to him, for he has his standards, but their quality, 
whatever it is, is on the grand scale, and his discussion of 
it takes on a very peculiar accent, enormous, educated, and 
fuzzy. He writes, you might say, rather the way Henry 
Wadsworth Longfellow used to look. 

Generally speaking, however, he has space for only five 
or six hundred words and very little time to put them 
down. The result is that he has developed a very special 
vocabulary in which words come to transcend their exact 
and customary meanings — in which, in a sense, they are 
detached from the language and inflated like little bal- 
loons, and presently sent spinning, lovely, iridescent, and 
meaningless, into the wild, blue heaven of critical prose. 
"Luminous" is such a word. Coming from the typewriter 
of a skilful operator, it means that the performance given 
by a young woman who has probably gone through each 
scene from ten to twenty times with her director and still 
has only the vaguest idea what it is all about is strong, 
beautiful, humorous, tragic, and lit with something of the 
same strange, devouring flame that once burned bright in 
Duse and Bernhardt. It means, that is, everything and 
nothing; it is both the non-word and the all-word. "Taut" 
is another and says, in reference to an actor's work, that 
he is somewhat greater than Booth or Salvini, and, in ref- 
erence to a story, that it is high time for Hamlet to move 
over. There are a great many of these wonderful words 
— "haunting," "lyric," "brave," "tender," "compassionate," 
and, above all, "poignant" occur to me in passing — and 
they are invaluable in imparting such a cosmic air to a 
conversation that it is never quite apparent just what pre- 
cisely is being discussed. The only trouble with all this, in 


fact, is that, habitually so used, these words can no longer 
be employed in their original and limited sense, and this is 
too bad because some of them were rather nice words in 
the beginning. 

The reviewer is also remarkably talented in summarizing 
the complicated but fundamentally non-existent plots that 
come his way. These, too, he inflates to several times their 
natural size, colors with vague but impressive suggestions 
of other meanings than those that appear on the surface, 
and also sets adrift in space. In speaking, for instance, of a 
tornado that has apparently only a simple, melodramatic 
intent, he is apt to write, "There is, it seems to me, a pro- 
found and urgent ["urgent," by the way, is another fa- 
vorite all- word] symbolism in the storm that carries away 
Miller's house and drowns his bed-ridden aunt." The sym- 
bolism is very seldom explained, but it is apt to delude 
everybody, including the writer, into believing that a sub- 
tle analogy has been offered, unerringly detected, and 
stylishly exposed. 

In addition to complimenting the players and magnify- 
ing the plot, it is, of course, the reviewer's duty to go into 
the difficult matters of direction and photography. The first 
of these, since the mass mating of minds in any Hollywood 
picture makes it practically impossible for the layman to 
tell who did what, is usually conveniently dismissed by the 
use of a few all-words, or of phrases like "Mr. Desmond 
displayed great resource in his handling of nuclear mass," 
or "Mr. Drear's use of causal overtones is provocative, to 
say the least," both of which I presume mean something or 
other, though not to me. 

Photography, on the other hand, is something actually 
visible on the screen and it is a good deal harder to brush 
off since the writer is confronted with an insanely com- 
plicated, endlessly refined, and wickedly deceptive techni- 

The Country of the Blind 273 

cal process about which it is reasonable to assume that 
he knows about as much as he does about the inner work- 
ings of a seismograph. He has picked up a few useful terms 
like "lap dissolve" and "pan take," but for the most part he 
is obliged to rely on his personal artistic judgment, which, 
logically enough, since he is not an art critic, is apt to be 
unformed. He is a great one for "correct" or "striking" 
compositions, those, that is, that most closely resemble 
the paintings on sale in department stores, and he is a 
perennial sucker for the studiously telling details — a dead 
and falling leaf, a face in a crowd, a hand slowly relaxed 
— that are all part of a sort of primitive emotional short- 
hand used by the films to trap the unwary. Since photogra- 
phy is the one thing that Hollywood handles with in- 
variable competence, and often with considerable taste 
and ingenuity, it seems too bad that the reviewers are 
neither mechanically nor esthetically equipped to deal 
with it adequately. 

All that I have written, of course, has probably passed 
through the mind of anyone who has given any appreciable 
thought to the cinema. It took me ten months of notable 
physical discomfort and mental confusion, however, before 
I really saw, in the terms set down here, the whole absurd- 
ity of what I was trying to do — to write, that is, for the 
information of my friends about something that was plainly 
designed for the entertainment of their cooks — and before 
I realized that I had no intention of ever doing it again. I 
once knew an educated and almost excessively cultivated 
man who really enjoyed reviewing the movies. He was, 
however, a special case, in that he was unfailingly amused 
in his wintry way by sex in what he was pleased to call its 
"contactual aspects," and the idea of an art form funda- 
mentally based on the slow, relentless approach and final 


passionate collision of two enormous faces struck him as 
convulsing. He wrote about it all with a wonderful, maid- 
enly distaste, and to the total bewilderment of the motion- 
picture industry, but he really had the time of his life. He 
was also a very valuable critic since, free from the terrible 
spell of Love, he saw a good deal that escaped his earnest 

O.K., Zanuck, Take It Away 

The career of Miss Gertrude Lawrence, up to now, has 
been a good deal like a superior moving picture — profuse 
in love, nicely arranged in a scale of mounting grandeur, 
and offering altogether very handsome opportunities for 
an all-star cast, bathed in Technicolor. The heroine has 
even furnished her own shooting script — a 238-page book 
about herself called A Star Danced, a title, of course, that 
would look lovely in lights. The strictly stylistic qualities of 
this document need very little discussion. It seems obvious 
that Miss Lawrence wrote it herself, composing, if a sample 
on the jacket can be trusted, in a round, maidenly hand on 
taupe paper with white ink. Apparently she was also 
somewhat pushed for time, since the useful dash is the 
backbone of her punctuation and the curly ampersand 
serves her faithfully as a connective. Nor is she an author 
whose ear is outraged by cliches — the waters of the world 
are the Seven Seas to Miss Lawrence and Timbuktu is her 
favorite symbol for all that's far away — or one to be 
daunted by the persistent recurrence of a word or sound. 
As early as her second page she writes, "And I might see 
Richard. That thought brought me out of bed and under 
the shower in one swift leap. From then on the next two 
days were one mad rush, winding up with the final leap to 
the airport," and her prose is full of girlish echoes to the 



end. This contempt for elegant variation, for the patient, 
hopeless struggle for felicity, is actually one of Miss Law- 
rence's most endearing young charms. She is a handsome 
woman, with a fine, arrogant spirit; a slavish attention to 
syntax would become her as oddly as a sunbonnet. 

While the style of A Star Danced often suggests a young 
lady writing her parents from a camp in the Adirondacks, 
the content is rich and worldly and the point of view a 
winsome blend of Edward VII and Noel Coward, with 
brisk, practical overtones of Anita Loos. Miss Lawrence 
was born in Clapham, a section of London where it doesn't 
pay to be too nosy about other people's business, and she 
was christened Gertrude Alexandra Dagmar Klasen, for 
her father was Danish and these were royal names. Her 
early days were useful chiefly to establish her beyond any 
question as a character in a moving picture. There was 
Father, who sang huskily at smokers and in music halls, 
and drank, and presently abandoned his family for the less 
confining society of a minstrel show, where he took up 
with an amiable girl called Rose. Father was an artist, with 
all that implies in domestic confusion. Mother was also of 
the profession, though only dimly, since all her daughter 
seems to recall is that she was obliged to pad her thighs 
to land a job in the chorus. She was, in fact, mainly notable 
for her erratic selection of mates; after the Danish Thrush 
came Dad, a gambler of quite spectacular incompetence, 
who kept his family nervously alert for the sheriff. Of 
them all, the most vivid in her memory is Grandma, an 
imposing matriarch, who bred in her descendant that deep 
pleasure in royalty which was eventually to make Miss 
Lawrence regard the second World War primarily as a 
crusade to restore Edwardian securities. "The day will in- 
evitably come," she writes at the height of the blitz, "when 
the established, comfortable, peaceful life, which every 

O.K., Zanuck, Take it Away 277 

British person considers no more than his due, will return/' 
And again, on a note of wonder, "The war has altered 
some aspects of British life unbelievably. Daisy's door was 
opened by her husband, Lionel. Butlers have become ex« 
tinct, even in Eaton Square." Once, by some hideous mis- 
take and in the presence of the commander of the Fleet, 
she drank the King's health in water. "I felt like some 
miserable figure in a Bateman drawing!" she confesses. 

Miss Lawrence herself was distinctly a cinema persom 
ality. A plain, thin child (they stuffed her hopefully with 
Scott's Emulsion and Parrish's Chemical Food, but she re- 
mained defiantly flat ) , she compensated for these deficien- 
cies by following the traditional Hollywood patterns for 
the early behavior of a star with incredible fidelity. "Sud- 
denly," she writes in fond remembrance, "as against a 
black-velvet backdrop, the past came back to me, and I 
saw myself as a little girl, dancing on a sidewalk in Clap- 
ham . . . holding out my brief skirts." The music, suitably 
enough, was provided by a wandering organ grinder, dis- 
cordant but picturesque. She made her first sovereign 
singing to a Bank Holiday crowd on the sands at Brighton. 
" It ain't all honey, and it ain't all jam,' I carolled lightly, 
twirling on my toes with my skimpy pink frock held out as 
far as it would stretch." Sometimes the manager of a thea- 
tre gave her a pass to the gallery, where she sat transfixed, 
dreaming the customary dreams. She went to a school for 
professional children, where she met Noel Coward, "a thin, 
unusually shy boy, with a slight lisp," and where the 
clangor of Bow Bells was summarily erased from her ac- 
cent. She appeared in Christmas pantomimes and in one of 
Max Reinhardt's earlier scuffles with The Miracle; she went 
on tour in the provinces, and once, when her employer 
vanished with the receipts, she put in a week as a barmaid 


to pay her board; in the end, the talent scouts caught up 
with her and, in almost less time than it takes to tell 
(seventy-seven pages), she was understudying Beatrice 
Lillie in one of Andre Chariot's revues. 

It is all there, as tidy and satisfactory as the works in a 
little watch. It might even be said that it is more than all 
there, for Miss Lawrence is no girl to be content with the 
usual complexities of life or the accepted cliches of any 
rise to triumph in the theatre. When Miss Lillie obligingly 
fell off a horse and her understudy's great chance came, 
she was notably pregnant ( she had married a dim, elderly 
character named Frank Howley in what appears to have 
been no more than a fit of abstraction) and only by re- 
minding herself of the brave tradition of the theatre was 
she able to get herself out on the stage, tightly laced but 
still indomitably bouncy. Needless to say, she was mag- 
nificent. The child, whose sense of timing was also ad- 
mirable, contrived to be born during one of the worst 
Zeppelin raids of the war, and Mr. Howley, having per- 
formed his whole function somewhat after the manner 
of the male spider, disappeared without a trace. It is al- 
most permissible to suspect that Miss Lawrence ate him. 

Before her marriage, she had been engaged to a young 
barrage balloonist identified only as Peter. "Whenever I 
would look up and see the big balloons bobbing lazily 
above the roofs and spires, like bubbles rising in an enor- 
mous glass of champagne, I had a cozy feeling of protec- 
tion," she writes on page ninety-three. "My boy was up 
there looking out for me and for our city." Peter, a correct 
young man, took her to meet his parents and gave her a 
diamond-and-sapphire ring (subsequently hocked by 
Howley), but he had one fatal defect — the theatre bored 
him silly. In spite of the sense of security engendered by 
having a fiance in a balloon, Miss Lawrence was quite un- 

O.K., Zanuck, Take it Away 279 

able to imagine herself as a suburban housewife. "The 
more I thought about Peter and the life he pictured to me 
. . . the more certain I became that it was not the life for 
me. So I broke our engagement. Peter took it hard, but 
gallantly." Like the spectral Howley, Peter was a mistake, 
and Miss Lawrence was to make others. From now on, 
however, they were to be on the grand scale, and so was 
her life. 

Since the book, like its author on her way to her shower, 
leaps madly back and forth in time, it isn't easy to keep 
Miss Lawrence's adventures in any rational sequence. 
Here she is flying the Atlantic on her way to entertain the 
troops in France. "How strange," she thinks idly, "was the 
knowledge that far below was the stretch of tossing gray 
ocean I had crossed so many times." Here she is standing 
with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., to whom a foolish rumor has 
her engaged, in a crowd outside Buckingham Palace, wait- 
ing for news of George V. When a bulletin announces 
that the King is dead, she is gratified to see a tall young 
man sweep off his hat as tears run down his cheeks. "His 
voice," she notes, "told me he was an American." He was 
only a colonial, but he wept. In fact, her thoughts at this 
period turned often to the United States. "I found a 
tremendous interest in America — a genuine curiosity about 
what Americans thought, what they were doing and how 
they felt about the British. Everything sent from the U.S.A. 
had become extraordinarily valuable and desirable. I don't 
suppose that at any time since the reign of James I, when 
the first British colonies were established in America, has 
the world beyond the Atlantic held out such riches as it 
does today. The British are rediscovering America." 

Once Miss Lawrence came into her dressing room at 
a London theatre to find the Duke of Kent trying on a 


foolish blond wig before her mirror while the Prince of 
Wales was democratically annoying her maid. "P.W., as 
his intimates referred to him, had fulfilled all the promise 
I had found in those early photographs of him which I 
used to pin up beside my mirror. He was debonair, amus- 
ing, charming," she writes, adding, more or less cryptically, 
*'At that time, during the early twenties, no one in London 
had even heard of Mrs. Wallis Warfield Simpson." It was 
about this time that she met Captain Philip Astley, who 
was "everything a knight in armor should be. He was born 
at Chequers, which is now the official country home of all 
British Prime Ministers. He was christened in the robes of 
Oliver Cromwell, and educated at Eton and the Royal 
Military College, added to which he was desperately good- 
looking and had unparalleled charm. We had to fall in 
love with each other. It was as natural and instinctive to us 
both as it was for us to breathe." Captain Astley was more 
durable than his predecessors, lasting for almost sixty 
pages, but then she found to her horror that he, too, was 
only feebly stirred by the theatre. There were other con- 
siderations, of course. "His career was as important as 
mine, and it would have been wrecked had he married a 
divorced woman. Though I was his wife, he could not 
have brought me to Court, since etiquette forbade this. 
He could not have entered the Royal Enclosure at Ascot — 
something which is extremely important to English people 
of Philip's position. . . . [His] income was not sufficient 
to pay the heavy expenses of his clubs, his uniforms, and 
all the obligations connected with his career in Court cir- 
cles and to support me and a growing daughter." Also, he 
called Miss Lawrence Dormouse, but she does not list this 
specifically as a grievance. Anyway, Philip was out of the 

O.K., Zanuck, Take it Away 281 

Fortunately, it was precisely at this vacant moment that 
Bert Taylor, a young man who she enthusiastically but in- 
correctly thinks was the son of the president of the New 
York Stock Exchange, came into her life. "This tall, dark- 
haired, stunning-looking American was like someone one 
only reads about," Miss Lawrence notes happily. "With a 
snap of his fingers, a glance, a quiet word, he had the 
power to bring about miracles. A banker in Bert's position 
could, and not infrequently did, make a profit of fifty 
thousand dollars in a day's trading on the Stock Exchange; 
and, exhilarated by this achievement, on his way uptown 
to his club he would drop in at Cartier's and spend a part 
of the day's bag on a gorgeous bauble to please the lady of 
his heart. Is it any wonder that Bert Taylor, who moved 
habitually in this fantastically luxurious world, should 
have swept me off my feet?" The dark, repetitive fates, 
however, were still dogging Miss Lawrence, and it was 
only a little while before she found herself involved in a 
familiar and disgusting conversation. "When I come home 
in the afternoon, I'm tired," said Mr. Taylor, obviously 
not in the tone of a man accustomed to pass fifty- thousand- 
dollar miracles. "I want to relax, have dinner, play a little 
bridge or something, and then get to bed at a decent hour. 
I don't want to sit around alone all evening until your 
show is over to take you out to supper, and then sit up 
half the night." Like Captain Astley, he also had a pet 
name for her. It was Peaches. When the circumstance that 
he seemed to be engaged to someone else ( Captain Astley, 
too, had had a tiresome way of making alternate arrange- 
ments the minute her back was turned ) made it clear that 
Bert would never do, Miss Lawrence was somewhat dis- 
couraged. "Would I always be too late for happiness?" she 
asked herself wearily. 


For a while then, she had only more or less dispassionate 
admirers — William Rhinelander Stewart, who was also ca- 
pable of quiet miracles and once sent a florist with orders 
to plant a garden in her back yard; Jules Glaenzer, the 
head of Carrier's New York branch and "one of those 
wonderful people, rare in any country and any society, 
who — though not artists themselves — are creative in their 
ability to encourage and develop artists of every sort"; 
Alexander Woollcott, a big, untidy man, with a lap like a 
lawn, known to her with fond derision as Uncle Aleck; 
Ernest Hemingway, who made her think tolerantly of "a 
rather mischievous small boy whose pockets are full of bits 
of string, old rusty nails, chewing gum, and maybe a pet 
toad or two"; George Gershwin, whose only interest in life 
unfortunately was his own music; and the young Prince of 
Hyderabad, or Baby, who, with the rather disconcerting 
humor of the mysterious East, gave her a miniature can- 
non, which fired lighted cigars, and a gold kidskin bag con- 
taining betel nuts. 

In this emotional vacuum, the theatre was always a 
great consolation to Miss Lawrence. In John van Druten's 
Behold We Live, she felt that she had reached a mile- 
stone in her career. "I, who had begun in light musical 
comedy and revues, was now starring as a dramatic ac- 
tress in a serious role with other truly great actors," she 
writes, though without the italics. "If there is another ac- 
tress on the English stage who could give the performance 
you did on Monday night in Edinburgh, I don't know 
her," Charles B. Cochran told her after a tryout of Noel 
Coward's Private Lives, and Mr. Coward himself sent 
her a specially bound set of all his plays, bearing the in- 
scription "For Gertie, with my undying gratitude for her 
exquisite, polished, and sensitive performance of Amanda." 

O.K., Zanuck, Take it Away 283 

111 in a hospital in Toronto and deluged with flowers from 
all over the world (Florenz Ziegfeld sent his daily, on 
ice), she realized for the first time that "there was some- 
thing wonderful in being somebody/' The most impressive 
tribute ever paid her had been the one at the final New 
York performance of the 1924 Chariot's Revue. "The whole 
house stood up and cheered us. They pelted us with flow- 
ers. When the audience was finally pushed out of the 
theatre, several hundred of them merely adjourned to the 
stage door, where they formed such an imposing mob 
scene that traffic was clogged in Forty-second Street. When 
Bea and I came out, laden with flowers, to get into our 
waiting taxi, we found the roof of the vehicle packed with 
the more ardent revellers, who escorted us through the 
streets of New York singing our own songs to us." 

Eventually the script was finished, except for a suitable 
fadeout, and soon that was provided, too. Happiness 
came to Miss Lawrence when she was trying out Skylark 
at a summer theatre on Cape Cod. Her producer was 
Richard Aldrich, a tall young American (all Miss Law- 
rence's beaux, of course, were tall and young) whom she 
had met casually in London several years before. "Rich- 
ard and I took our time," she writes with a rather settled 
and matronly air. "We both wanted to be very, very sure. 
1 had made one mistake in marriage. I did not want to 
make another. It was curious about Richard — it was as 
though he combined in one person the different things I 
had found and admired in Philip Astley and Bert Taylor. 
He was Boston and Harvard, and had been a banker, but 
above all he loved the theatre. He was the first man in 
my life who understood what my career in the theatre 
meant to me — the first man who really understood me. 
And so we were married." It was perfect. The only note, 


in fact, that might conceivably distress the Hays Office 
came in the form of a rather questionable telegram from 
that perennial bachelor who had always followed her 
career with passionate, if slightly sardonic, attention: 

Dear Mrs. A., 

Hooray, hooray, 

At last you are deflowered. 

On this as every other day 

I love you — Noel Coward. 

The Big Boffola 

The Hucksters, by Frederic Wakeman, has not only been 
taken by the Book-of-the-Month Club as its selection for 
June, it has also been bought by MGM for $200,000, a pre- 
publication deal indicating, of course, high hopes on the 
Coast. In spite of these impressive votes of confidence, I'm 
afraid that it is a remarkably silly book. Mr. Wakeman's 
purpose, as I get it, was to write a sort of moral satire about 
the radio advertising business in which he himself was 
once successfully engaged. There is a hero, Victor Norman, 
who is able to view the absurdities of the profession with a 
detached, sardonic eye. Unfortunately, however, he is not 
sufficiently gifted to write a book about them, and instead 
we find him employed in an agency as an account execu- 
tive in charge of radio programs for a soap company. For 
the benefit of those who have never grasped the technical 
mysteries behind the demented voices on the air, this 
means that it is his job to assemble a half hour of comedy, 
music, and commercial announcements, convince the presi- 
dent of the soap company that this entertainment will sell 
his product, and then arrange for its delivery over a radio 
network — or at least that's what I think it means. Anyway, 
he has accepted this position at an annual salary of $35,- 
000, plus stock, bonuses, and a very nice little expense ac- 
count (another of Mr. Wakeman's figures is also recom- 



mended to the editors of Fortune: trie soap company pays 
ten million dollars a year for the right to torment the public 
with its slogans, and out of that the agency gets fifteen 
percent ) and he is cynically determined to make a hell of 
a lot of money as rapidly as possible. He undoubtedly 
would have, too, for he is a young man of ruthless com- 
petence and extravagant personal charm, if he hadn't 
contracted a species of love affair with a woman of blood- 
curdling refinement, though she was not averse to spend- 
ing a week with him in a Los Angeles flea-bag. This in- 
tricate matron, a Mrs. Francis X. Dorrance, has a couple 
of swell kids, cuter than Mencken and Nathan, and a hus- 
band, a distinguished lawyer stemming from one of those 
wealthy old New York families, who is fighting for his 
country in the Pacific. Vic (hero's pet name) might have 
been willing to take advantage of the absent warrior and 
break up his home if he had had any reputable future to 
offer a wife. Being in the advertising game, however, and 
miserably conscious of his own corruption, he desists, 
though only after an exhausting wrestle with his baser self. 

"If we did this thing," he tells her by long distance in 
the end, "I don't think I'd like myself." 

"Don't talk like that," she begs, but unfortunately he 
has been talking like that for 306 pages and it is too late 
to start editing him. They both hang up, feeling as char- 
acters so often seem to on the final page of a renunciatory 
novel, not so much noble as just terribly tired and de- 

This is the skeleton of Mr. Wakeman's book. Our next 
concern is the flesh he has selected to cover it. When I 
started to write about The Hucksters (a title, by the way, 
with a rather engaging and old-fashioned innocence about 
it, like The Nazarene or The Auction Block) I considered 
a parody and even typed the following sentences: 

The Big Boffola 287 

"Anybody don't like the way I do things," said old Sam 
Symbol, "I crush them like a bug." 

Mr. Golightly, Yale '35, the third assistant vice-president 
in charge of sales, took a small bug out of a sixteenth- 
century lacquered box and placed it on the table. The old 
man crushed it, using a $250 gold-ribbed Dunhill lighter. 

"Like a bug," he said. "Get it?" 

"A yak," said Mr. Golightly worshipfully. 

"A boffola," said Mr. Penrod. 

"You're right on the beam, Mr. Symbol," said Miss 
Roundhill, taking another sip of paraldehyde. "You cer- 
tainly send me." 

Hype Insight was feeling very sincere in his hand- 
painted Charvet tie and the sixty-four-dollar English shoes. 
He had been about to join in the chorus, but now he 
changed his mind. Instead, he took a hundred-dollar bill 
out of his pocket and swallowed it. It tasted a little like a 
counterfeit and he worried about his ulcers, but, what the 
hell, it certainly must look pretty sincere, eating a century 
right there in the meeting. 

This was intended to be a comment, both as to style 
and content, on the second chapter in the book, which 
deals with the first meeting between Victor Norman and 
old Evan Llewelyn Evans, the president of the Beautee 
Soap Company and a man apparently with a celebrated 
counterpart in life. In this actual version, the old man 
empties a pitcher of water on one of his subordinates by 
way of illustrating his opinion that some idea or other is 
all wet, removes his upper plate with the remark that Vic 
seems to have got his teeth into a problem, and spits on 
the table to demonstrate the value of the shock technique 
in advertising. Up to this point in the book, the word 


"sincere," which seems to be a trade adjective, used iron- 
ically to describe the public appearance and behavior suit- 
able to an advertising man, has turned up eight times; the 
yes-man motif and the intramural slang ("yak" and "bof- 
fola," for the benefit of any rubes in the audience, are 
variations of the old-fashioned "wow") have been estab- 
lished far beyond the strict necessities of satire if not up 
to the limit of reader endurance; and Charvet ties, Dunhill 
lighters, sedative drugs, and duodenal ulcers have been 
listed so often as occupational phenomena (Vic's immedi- 
ate superior is said to suffer from satyriasis but I doubt if 
that is really intended to be typical) that the point might 
easily be apparent to George Washington Hill himself. It 
is not until some twenty pages farther along that Vic 
throws eight dollars out of a sixty-seventh-story window 
in Radio City to emphasize his sincerity, but it is spirit- 
ually part of the same scene, and it marked the spot where 
I abruptly abandoned the idea of parody on the ground 
that the virility of Mr. Wakeman's humor was such that it 
needed no assistance from mine. I am not equipped to dis- 
cuss the validity of all this as criticism of what seems to be 
an achingly peculiar racket; I only know that it is im- 
practicable to try to superimpose parody on broad bur- 
lesque, or, to approximate the author's own idiom, to goose 
the yak in terms of the boffola. 

If it seems hardly feasible to parody The Hucksters on 
its level of ostensible criticism (the characters the hero 
meets in Hollywood are even more relentlessly "satirized" 
than old man Evans), it is absurd to think of doing so with 
its tenderer scenes. On page 277, for instance, Mrs. Dor- 
rance and her offspring are described as "Sweet, gracious 
Kay. Mad, passionate Kay. Grave, serious, manly Hal. 
Wild, unearthly little Ellen." Investigating these three 
specimens in order, we find Mrs. Dorrance contributing 

The Big Boffola 289 

the following high-toned sentiments to the conversation: 

Page 132, in the course of some cultivated literary ad- 
vice: "Why don't you try a piece of serious writing? You 
could do a wonderful satire on radio, knowing it so well. 
With your sardonic slant, it could be a fascinating carica- 

Page 178, with reference to her admirer's appetizing 
appearance: "I fancy you're a very warm, gentle, pas- 
sionate man beneath that frozen twentieth-century mask 
of a face." 

Page 238, in a moment of delirium in the flea-bag: "Do 
other people talk this way? Abandon all other feelings of 
life this way? I never knew these words, these silly words, 
could mean so much. . . . But you must sleep, my love. 
I want to stay awake and love your sleep." 

Page 265, more of the same, but crescendo: "Hold my 
foot, darling. It feels so good when you hold it." 

Vic's own definitive comment on love starts on page 
251 and oozes, so to speak, over onto 252: "A really in- 
tense love must be a form of insanity. I think Freud was 
wrong to pin it down just to the sex urge. The thing that 
stains and colors all other behavior is love. . . . And when 
love starts twisting its ecstatic daggers inside you, you 
soar up to the peaks, the mood of elation is on you." 

Somewhere else, Mr. Wakeman himself observes, "Oh, 
ecstasy, that hoarse and breathless word, that hot and 
viscous word." As Mr. Evans, that cruel and fearful old 
man, so often said, he seems to be right on the beam. Be- 
yond any question, "viscous" is the word for the ecstasies 
in The Hucksters. 

Grave, serious, manly Hal is probably no more piercing 
and monotonous than any other little boy — on page 116, 
we hear him shouting, "Hey, hey, do you know what to 
do when a crook's pointing a gun at you? You fall on 


your knee and draw your gun. Kakkkk, kakkk, you're 
dead. Hey, hey, you see I ducked and your bullet went 
over my head." And this is the general pattern of his con- 
versation. Little Ellen, however, is certainly as unearthly 
as they come. 

"My not 'ittle Ewwen, my big Ewwen," she says on 
page 115, for there is some strange disorder in her speech. 
"Tell my a stowy." A little later, having been obliged, she 
asks for "anuya stowy." "I wanna stowy about a flutterby," 
she squeaks, lunatic with whimsy. Ellen turns up off and on 
for approximately two hundred pages. She is easily the 
most repulsive literary inspiration, for her age and weight, 
since Little Eva. 

I could quote practically indefinitely from these fas- 
cinating types. I was pleased, for instance, to come on a 
lyric memorandum addressed by the hero to himself while 
lying sleepless on the Super Chief: "To a restless man on a 
train, America becomes only a ribbon stretching from his 
window to the hilltops or the horizon . . . the roads lead- 
ing like intestines into the hills." Old Whitman never 
wrote a lovelier line, I thought, murmuring it over to my- 
self. However, I have a feeling that the peculiar treasures 
of Mr. Wakeman's style and thought have already been 
sufficiently displayed. I said earlier that they seemed to 
resist parody; it occurs to me now that they may even be 
impervious to criticism. The Hucksters, by the way, is 
dedicated to Jed Harris, in his way a character as wild 
and unearthly as Little Ellen. In some circles, this in- 
scription may easily be regarded as the most successful yak 
or boffola in the book. 

The Personality Kid 

It might be interesting, though probably not terribly in- 
teresting, to know what a playgoer of generally correct 
taste but no information at all about the American theatre 
would make of John Barrymore in My Dear Children. 
Here, some such hypothetical critic might say, is a man 
approximately sixty years old, of classic though damaged 
appearance, giving a rather ridiculous performance in a 
play that really has no particular business on the stage. 
Observing an occasional trace of grandeur in Mr. Barry- 
more's behavior, he might want to qualify that a little. On 
the whole, it is sl ridiculous performance, he would say, but 
there are obviously hints that this fossil has been an actor 
of considerable ability, in whom the technique is still both 
instinctive and highly developed. Even given this qualifica- 
tion, though, how he would account for the hilarious re- 
ception accorded Mr. Barrymore and his simple-minded 
vehicle I can't imagine. 

It is a useless speculation in any case, since there can 
scarcely be an adult in North America who doesn't know 
Mr. Barrymore almost as intimately as the family doctor 
knows his oldest and most bothersome patient. The great 
man comes on the stage of the Belasco trailing a thousand 
anecdotes, familiar from Bangor to Pasadena. He is love, 
alcohol, beauty, and the heir of a dramatic tradition going 



back, it often seems, to the Old Testament. He can (and 
does ) act in a way that appears to be a vicious parody of 
Mr. Walter Hampden, and the audience watches him with 
boundless delight. Half of this effect lies in simply being a 
Barrymore and therefore presumably engaged in some- 
thing supernatural; the other half lies in a very carefully 
fostered reputation for doing the unexpected. 

In this second category, I'm sorry to say, Mr. Barrymore 
let his first-night admirers down miserably. The manner 
was all Barrymore, but, with the exception of a few inter- 
polated lines that I could have improved on myself, there 
was nothing unexpected — or nothing, at least, until the 
show had moved on to further triumphs in a night club. In 
the company surrounding me, this was generally regarded 
as a gyp. These fashionable people had come, on the whole, 
in the same spirit they would have gone to a wrestling 
match. They understood that the show was fixed, and if 
the star couldn't actually be tight, as advertised by his 
press agent, they certainly expected him to pretend he 
was. Mr. Barrymore did nothing of the kind. He threw in a 
few writhings and grimaces, but he didn't fall down and 
he remembered his lines perfectly, which was quite a feat 
since they are among the least memorable lines ever writ- 
ten. The whole thing was very disappointing, and it was a 
tribute to his past notoriety and present charm that he got 
the greatest ovation of the season without so much as 
throwing an actress at a critic. 

Because of the interlocking nature of Mr. Barrymore's 
private and professional lives, it is hard to say just who 
will be in the cast of My Dear Children by the time this 
reaches print, although it seems likely that the fourth Mrs. 
Barrymore, a young woman of remarkable tenacity of pur- 
pose and almost no reticence, will have supplanted Miss 
Doris Dudley in one of the leading roles. The night I went, 

The Personality Kid 293 

the associate wags included Lois Hall, Patricia Waters, 
Tala Birell, and Arnold Korff. A good deal of the time Mr. 
Barrymore's antics left them quite helpless with laughter, 
so that I got to wondering now and then if perhaps the 
wrong people weren't tight. 

Adultery Makes Dull Bedfellows 

"Sinister chaps, these gods that be, Michael," says Diana, 
and away we go. The scene is a living room in the home of 
Mrs. Reggie Williams Browne, the time is a breathing 
space or vacuum in the history of the world, and the re- 
mark is occasioned almost entirely by the circumstance 
that it has been decided by somebody, though certainly 
not by me, that what New York really needs at the mo- 
ment is another comedy by Frederick Lonsdale. I don't 
know exactly what to tell you about the evening that may 
be lying in wait for you at the Fulton. There is, of course, 
an abundant supply of those epigrams with which Mr. 
Lonsdale has been titillating the Morgan-Harjes set since 
1908. The quality of these quips is uneven. Sometimes a 
cliche has been so ingeniously rearranged that it comes 
out sounding almost like wit, sometimes the author's gay 
perversity is such that wicked old dowagers in the audi- 
ence nudge one another almost out from under their hair, 
but most of the time, I'm afraid, his record of stylish con- 
versations is just stupefying. At one point, for instance, 
Diana, a moderately sinister chap herself, offers us a 
rather involved thought about the double standard. "To 
a woman," she says, taking a deep breath, "a man's past 
only means that, thank God, he's had experience, while, 
to a man, a woman's past only means — that she's had a 
past." Don't bother to unwrap it. It's just a sample. 


Adultery Makes Dull Bedfellows 295 

The real complexity of life among Mr. Lonsdale's power- 
fully sexed grammarians can be indicated in a sentence, 
though a tough one: Michael, engaged to Molly, is really 
in love with Diana, whom he seduced once in Paris; George 
can't decide whether to marry Celia or Maggie, both of 
whom he has seduced here and there at various times; and 
Elsie, though married to Reggie, is still strongly attracted 
to her first husband, John, who has seduced practically 
everybody and likes to talk about it. Anyway, all these 
people, along with a drunken butler and an old family 
lawyer, both standard models, are visible on the stage, 
sometimes all at once. It is a rich and sophisticated dish, 
though not precisely, you might say, the Blue Plate Gibbs. 
How Mr. Lonsdale gets everything straightened out in the 
end, I won't try to tell you in this fortunately limited 
space. An impacted wisdom tooth, the drunken butler, and 
a good many dubious coincidences are involved, but the 
whole business isn't very clear to me even now, and I think 
you'd better just accept my word that everybody winds 
up in the right bed. Come to think of it, George (see 
synopsis) really doesn't, but the hell with him. 

Moving on to the cast, the chief attraction is probably 
Roland Young, a good actor but not, apparently, a very 
acute judge of scripts. It is Mr. Young's task to portray a 
small, neat, harried character, who has had eleven mis- 
tresses in the past and is now mixed up with two more. "I 
am a dull man," he says gloomily, "with just one way of ex- 
pressing myself." Mr. Young indicates this unhappy state 
largely by popping his eyes and sniffing his mustache, but 
he is funny enough and has my respectful sympathy. His 
co-star, Margaret Lindsay, a handsome recruit from the 
films, with an impressive voice, has been entrusted with 
Diana and some of the most staggering lines since Lady 
Windermere s Fan. Hers is strictly a triumph of beauty 


over syntax. Arthur Margetson, as a cynical man of the 
world, contributes a cryptic smile and a fashionable pres- 
ence and is, I'm sure, exactly what the author had in mind. 
Of the others — Doris Dalton, Philip Ober, Henry Mowbray, 
Augusta Dabney — I can only say that they don't seem ex- 
actly right for Lonsdale types, something, praise God, that 
might happen to anybody. Raymond Sovey's boudoir set- 
ting is obviously just the place for a roll in the ermine and 
the living room is very pretty, too. The name of this piece, 
by the way, is Another Love Story. 

The Mantle of Comstock 

Of the sixteen Protestant clergymen who signed a resolu- 
tion condemning Dorothy Baker s play called Trio, it ap- 
pears that only one, the Reverend Dr. John Sutherland 
Bonnell, of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, had 
bothered to see the darn thing. All these gentlemen are 
members of a society called Sigma Chi, which, for your 
records, has no relation to that fraternity with the com- 
munal sweetheart but is simply a small group of ministers 
who gather the first and third Wednesday of every month 
for lunch and discussion. The subject under discussion a 
few weeks ago was the state of the New York stage and it 
produced a resolution from Dr. Bonnell demanding that 
something be done about Trio. In a sermon the Sunday 
before, Dr. Bonnell had specifically denounced a play 
that "condones, applauds, and even enacts promiscuity," 
a remark which the congregation obviously took to refer to 
The Voice of the Turtle. For one reason or another, how- 
ever, he abandoned that crusade and settled for Trio. The 
assembled brethren signed his manifesto with enthusiasm. 
In view of these facts, a diligent and gifted worker in 
this vineyard was asked to telephone the fellowship of 
Sigma Chi in an attempt to find out just what would move 
a man to condemn a play sight unseen. I would like to re- 
port his conversations, as nearly as possibly verbatim, with 
fourteen out of the sixteen. 



The Reverend W. Russell Bowie, of Union Theological 
Seminary, said, "I got in at the end of the meeting and 
was not in on the discussion. I went ahead and signed the 
letter at the suggestion of the others." When asked if he'd 
seen Trio, he replied, "Well, I haven't given the matter 
much thought and I'd rather not discuss it." 

The Reverend John Knox, also of the Seminary, and in 
response to the same question, said, "No, I haven't seen 
the play myself, but I hear it's pretty bad. It ought to be 

The Reverend Frederick C. Grant, another Seminary 
man: "It may be all right for people beyond forty to see a 
play like Trio, but it's terrible when youngsters are per- 
mitted to see this sort of thing. Why, a teen-aged girl in 
Bonnell's parish went to see one of these plays six times; 
the whole course of her life is now warped. In Trio, the 
subject matter is unduly pathological and the presentation 
is offensive. No, I haven't seen it." 

The Reverend Harold Pattison, retired pastor of Ghrist 
Protestant Episcopal Church in Oyster Bay and secretary 
of Sigma Chi: "The whole thing is too nasty to discuss in 
a conversation, let alone put on the stage. I'd rather not go 
into it. Of course I didn't want to see the play." 

The Reverend Nolan B. Harmon, Jr., editor-in-chief of 
the Methodist publications, said he was in a hurry to 
catch a train but would be delighted to talk about Trio 
some other time. He did, however, add that he hadn't seen 
the play. "But let me have a chance to think about it," he 
said hastily. "I'll call you," and went off, presumably catch- 
ing his train. 

The Reverend Howard Melish, of Holy Trinity Protes- 
tant Episcopal Church in Brooklyn: "I haven't seen Trio, 
but Bonnell saw it. I was particularly interested in the 
fact that one or two people Bonnell knew had very definite 

The Mantle of Comstock 299 

Lesbian tendencies — he probably ran into them in his ad- 
visory work — well, the play had had a deleterious effect 
on them. Of course, nobody wants censorship, but it's a 
question, actually, of the protection of the people." 

The Reverend Theodore F. Savage, Executive Secretary 
of the Presbytery of New York: "The public goes to the 
theatre expecting dramatic entertainment and gets filth. I 
haven't seen Trio." 

The Reverend George P. T. Sargent, pastor of St. Bar- 
tholomew's, read over the telephone a portion of his previ- 
ous Sunday's sermon: "I have a great sympathy for our 
city officials, who have no desire to be moral censors of 
our lives but feel a sense of responsibility to maintain 
moral standards." Part of the trouble, he added, "comes 
from a tendency in many plays to parade an immoral 
subject in a beautiful setting with exquisite acting. I 
haven't seen Trio or read the novel. I'm not going to de- 
vote Lent to that sort of thing." Mr. Sargent also quoted 
at length from St. Luke, to no apparent purpose. 

The Reverend Joseph R. Sizoo, of St. Nicholas Colle- 
giate Church: "There is no doubt that the stage, just as the 
press, has a right to narrate tragic elements of life, but in 
this instance the portrayal of an irregular sex relationship 
can't be justified because there is nothing in it that lifts 
people. No, I haven't seen Trio myself." 

The Reverend Lynn Harold Hough, dean of Drew Theo- 
logical Seminary, Madison, New Jersey: "I haven't seen 
Trio, but I got a very full report from a man who had 
seen it and who had lived in Paris twenty-five years and 
had seen everything." 

The Reverend Geoffrey W. Stafford, also of the Drew 
Seminary faculty, hadn't seen Trio either, but in the words 
of Dean Hough: "Stafford was an officer in the British 
Army in the other war, and he's had a very close contact 


with the world in its rougher aspects, as you might im- 

The Reverend A. B. Cohoe, pastor of the First Baptist 
Church of Montclair, New Jersey: "I haven't seen Trio > 
but Bonnell saw it and condemned it in a very detailed 
statement making the subject matter of the drama clear 
to all of us. I personally would not denounce a play in my 
pulpit or in my writings without having gone to see it. All 
we did was to support Bonnell's opinion, which all the 
members present did without dissent." 

The Reverend John H. Powell, Jr., pastor of the Re- 
formed Church of Bronxville: "It was not made clear to 
us that the thesis of the play is actually a condemnation 
of perversion, as you tell me. Bonnell has done much 
psychiatric work and is thought to know something of 
such matters. I didn't see the play." 

The Reverend George Vincent, pastor of the Union 
Congregational Church of Upper Montclair, New Jersey: 
"Dr. Bonnell is our spokesman in the matter. He saw Trio. 
I didn't." 

The Reverend Arthur P. Mabon, formerly associate pas- 
tor of St. Nicholas Collegiate Church, signed Dr. Bon- 
nell's statement. He could not be reached for comment, 
but his secretary said that he rarely attended the theatre. 

The final clerical comment on Trio came from one of 
the above Sigma Chis, who said that it must be pretty bad 
because it had opened in Paris (Trio opened in Philadel- 
phia) and they hadn't let it run there. It was nearly as 
distasteful, he added, as another French atrocity whose 
name, as he recalled it, was La Farisienne, quite properly 
suppressed over here under the title of The Captive. 

Two Very Sad Young Men 

Of all the sad young rebels in our literature, which offers 
a new specimen for our inspection nearly every week, the 
hero of "Look Back in Anger," John Osborne's play at the 
Lyceum, is perhaps the one with the most exhaustive set 
of grievances against the world he has to live in. He is 
dismayed by his times, because there are no great causes, 
or illusions, left to fight for; he can take no comfort in 
belonging to a social class, because he is what might be 
called a half gentleman, sufficiently a man of the people 
to hate the soft arrogance of the fortunate and gently bred, 
and sufficiently educated to despise the ignorant senti- 
mentality of the poor; he has no rational occupation to 
divert him, being an artist manque, now condemned to 
the operation of a candy store in some gritty English sub- 
urb; and he is, of course, denied the popular consolations 
of religion and of patriotism, having an almost equal con- 
tempt for the dead God and the dying Empire. He is a 
very young man, as you have probably gathered, and he 
might easily have been both tedious and insufferable if 
Mr. Osborne hadn't somehow managed to write about him 
with compassion and truth, and to endow him with a kind 
of savage and authentic humor not often found in heroes 
who consider themselves victims of life, since they are far 
more apt to be damp with self-pity than bright with rage. 



In essence, the play is a furious and almost uninter- 
rupted diatribe against practically everything. The action 
takes place in the miserably squalid one-room flat that 
Jimmy Porter shares with his wife, Alison, who, being the 
daughter of a British colonel until recently stationed in 
India, is a symbol of all that her husband finds most 
loathsome. A room on the same floor is occupied by a 
young Welshman, whose rough exterior conceals the kind- 
est of all possible hearts, and who is apparently the only 
friend they have left in the world. When the curtain 
rises, the lady is ironing while the men investigate the 
Sunday papers, and almost instantly Porter finds fuel for 
the perpetual fire that consumes him. "The Bishop of 
Bromley," he reads, with terrible relish, "has made a very 
eloquent appeal to all Christians to aid in the manufacture 
of the H-bomb." It is no time at all before he finds occa- 
sion to observe that it is "dreary living in the American 
age, unless you're American, of course"; to describe T. S. 
Eliot, if I heard him correctly, as "a sort of female Emily 
Bronte"; and to remark of his mother-in-law that she is 
"as tough as a night in a Bombay brothel and as hairy as 
a sailor." It is at this point, I believe, that his wife murmurs 
wanly, "I think I'll go out of my mind if you don't stop," 
and he replies genially, "Why don't you?" This, in general, 
is the pattern of the conversation in "Look Back in Anger," 
and while I can see now that it reproduces only indiffer- 
ently in print, it sounds quite sprightly on the stage, where 
the humor of invective is not customarily so vivid or so in- 
genious. The serious portions of the entertainment are 
perhaps rather less satisfactory. There are occasions when 
self-pity does creep in, the hero turning up with floridities 
like "I knew more about love, betrayal, and death when I 
was ten years old than you will ever know," and there is 
a recurring motif having to do with the necessity of think- 

Two Very Sad Young Men 303 

ing of oneself as a small furry animal when it is no longer 
possible to endure the torment of being human. Mr. Os- 
borne states firmly in a program note that this is not 
whimsey, but I regret to say that it remains too whimsi- 
cal for me. There is also — probably because of a dearth of 
natural incident in what is fundamentally a character 
study — an attempt to contrive incident (the wife, tired of 
being a victim, leaves; a new and somewhat preposterous 
victim is supplied; the wife returns, etc. ) , and I can't help 
feeling that all this mechanism has a certain desperation 
about it. By far the greater part of the play, though, is 
true, touching, and funny in its lively, roughshod way, and 
I trust you'll take it to your heart. 

As Porter, Kenneth Haigh handles his lines with unusual 
intelligence and obvious enjoyment, and he is nicely as- 
sisted by Mary Ure, as his unfortunate wife; Alan Bates, 
as their friend; Vivienne Drummond, as the other woman 
in the case; and Jack Livesey, as the colonel, who once 
says reflectively of his son-in-law, "He has quite a turn of 
phrase, hasn't he?" — a massive understatement if ever I 
heard one. 

At Home with the Gants 

In a modest but impressive way, Ketti Frings has ac- 
complished a miracle in her dramatization of Thomas 
Wolfe's "Look Homeward, Angel," which opened last week 
at the Ethel Barrymore. Even after the late Maxwell 
Perkins, a superb editor, had cut the manuscript almost 
in half, the book remained a great, roaring torrent of 
words, muddy, turbulent, overflowing the countryside, 
carrying a vast amount of debris with it in its passage to 
the sea. It cannot be said that Miss Frings has completely 
succeeded in taming this flood — there are still whirling 
eddies in the current, and sandbars where the logs pile 
up — but at least she has got it back inside its banks and the 
water is comparatively clear. The play (I think we've 
had more than enough of metaphor) is certainly not with- 
out its faults, both in structure and in language. Time, 
for one thing, had to be telescoped enormously, the major 
happenings of several years being compressed into some- 
thing like three weeks, and this crowding together of such 
diverse material as a boy's first love, a shocking death in the 
family, the final disintegration of a marriage, and the 
culmination not only of a woman's fierce conflict between 
greed and her need to be loved but of her son's equally 
agonized struggle to escape from surroundings that are 
destroying him both as a man and as an artist sometimes 


At Home with the Gants 305 

gives the play a rather disorganized aspect. It is also true 
that some of the lesser characters, such as the hero's girl, 
his vehemently extrovert sister, a smug, successful uncle, 
and even, conceivably, the doomed brother, who were 
fully developed in the novel, have lost their sharp defini- 
tion on the stage and now seem somewhat blurred and 
diminished. And it might even be said that the text 
occasionally goes wrong, partly because of the necessity 
for turning whole paragraphs of description into dialogue, 
a process to which Wolfe's prose lends itself only reluc- 
tantly; partly because a certain amount of original, bridg- 
ing material had to be supplied, a nearly impossible task 
in dealing with a novelist who was unique and inimitable 
(at least this side of parody) in his idiom; and partly, I 
suspect, because Miss Frings' veneration for her source 
was so great that she was unable to tamper with passages 
that her intelligence must have informed her were "liter- 
ary" to put it mildly. 

Despite these handicaps, some imposed by form and 
some by temperament, "Look Homeward, Angel" is a 
fine, moving, and generally eloquent play. Eliza Gant's 
North Carolina boarding house, an absurd and terrible 
ruin called the Dixieland, attracts a startling collection of 
freaks from all over, but none more furiously possessed 
than the proprietress and her husband, and none as 
wretchedly trapped as their seventeen-year-old son Eu- 
gene, who is, of course, the author's portrait of his youth- 
ful self. Like O'Neill, Wolfe had a desperate compulsion 
to resurrect and understand the past, but his capacity for 
pity and forgiveness was considerably less, and the elder 
Gants are, in the main, remorselessly drawn. Eliza's grim 
passion for collecting land and money, which has had its 
bitter effect on all her family, has reduced Eugene, in 
particular, to the condition of a ragged, undernourished 


errand boy for the tarts, drug addicts, consumptives, and 
other fragrant personalities who infest the Dixieland, and 
while we are permitted to see that she is occasionally tor- 
mented by shame, regret, and longing for love, the picture 
remains that of a mean and graceless woman, epic only in 
the scale of her obsession. 

Her husband comes off slightly better, or at any rate 
more picturesquely. He is a tombstone cutter by trade, 
but the aura of the lost artist is on him (he dreams of 
carving a perfect marble angel), and when he is drunk, 
which is often, his conversation has a thundering magnilo- 
quence almost worthy of the Mermaid Tavern. He can be 
graphic, as when he observes, "I well remember the day 
your mother first came crawling in here, on her belly, like 
a snake," or disconcerting, as when, having been re- 
proached for describing his first wife as a miserable old 
hag, he explains that he does so simply because he is a 
bastard. In spite of all these charms, however, he is a 
weak, futile man, unable to help himself or anybody else, 
and though his son appears to have admired his vocabulary 
and his reputation for prowess in the local bordello, the 
ultimate emotion he aroused seems to have been a kind of 
contemptuous tolerance. Both the elder Gants, in fact, are 
dreadful people. They are fascinating and unforgettable 
because they have a completeness of personality, an air of 
having been drawn from life with scrupulous and pas- 
sionate care, that is rarely encountered in the theatre. It 
is uncomfortable to think of Wolfe's looking back on the 
past with such concentrated loathing, but at least we can 
be grateful for the concentration. Though the pair it has 
produced will hardly endear themselves to you, there is 
not an accent or a gesture that you can doubt, and they 
are practically guaranteed to chill your blood. 

The boy Eugene is a different proposition, since writers 

At Home with the Gants 307 

are naturally inclined to take a rather romantic view of 
their own suffering embryos. We get, therefore, a success- 
sion of fairly conventional images — the tortured young 
idealist lost in a society of yammering barbarians, the 
adolescent lover wrestling with a lost cause (the girl is 
twenty- three and engaged to someone else), the son help- 
lessly torn between love and hate, the precocious seeker 
after truth ("What does it all mean?"), the born writer, 
aware of his heavy destiny but inflexible in his purpose. 
If, however, Eugene cannot be said to vary much in es- 
sence from a hundred other heroes in literature, he is 
presented with such fierce and somehow innocent convic- 
tion, such a clear, disarming certitude that he is unique, 
that there is actually an illusion that you are seeing him 
for the first time. For various reasons, none creditable, I 
am more immune than most to the pathos of budding 
genius in a chilly world, but I nevertheless found Eugene 
deeply touching. 

As I ve said, the others in the cast come less vividly to 
life. Eugene's girl, who was not very arresting in the book, 
is even less so in the play, and it occurs to me that perhaps 
the first object of a young writer's affection should be wan 
and dull; his older brother, Ben, who dies somewhat 
protractedly of pneumonia in the second act, is a sensitive 
man but inarticulate, except in the end, when he is a ghost 
(I can't help wishing that Miss Frings had resisted this 
particular flourish); Ben's mistress demonstrates, I guess, 
that a girl can be fat, vulgar, and rather loose in her ways 
and still be a comfort to a lonely man; the sister, Helen, 
unmistakably a Gant but without much of her parents' 
terrible vivacity, has been triumphant only in breaking 
her husband's spirit; and the others, who include a stagy 
old country doctor, a whorehouse madam in the market 
for a tombstone, Eliza's brother and fellow real-estate 


shark, and all the grotesque tenants of the boarding house, 
are, I should say, not much more than surface caricatures, 
serviceable enough but clearly the victims of drastic edit- 
ing. It doesn't matter much. The play is focussed on Eu- 
gene and his parents, and they are magnificent. 


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